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Over the last several months, the subject of artificial intelligence in creative fields has been in the news almost weekly. Artists have been upset about the implications of graphical AI’s like Midjourney while universities try to limit access to ChatGPT to avoid cheating on exams. I’ve seen AI used to create dating profiles, write resumes for those looking for jobs, and blog content for content creators. I’ve also seen several videos explaining how ChatGPT can be used to create books that can be posted directly to KDP.
But is it? In a way, I’ve already been using AI’s to improve my writing through Grammarly and ProWritingAid. Sure, neither of those actually produces content for you, but there is some sort of AI involved to analyze your writing and offer suggestions. ChatGPT “just” takes it to the next level by actually producing content for you.
Naturally, I had to take a closer look at what I could achieve with ChatGPT. What is actually possible to do with ChatGPT, and how far am I willing to go with AI and my own writing?
Creating Story Outlines
The one thing I’ve always struggled with is creating that first concise story outline from that first sentence. As it turns out, ChatGPT isn’t half-bad at doing this for you. Here’s an example sentence I put in to see what I’d get:
“A story idea about a man that can read memories and transfer them to others.”
It’s a sci-fi type story idea, deliberately vague. Here’s the output:
The main character, Jake, is a man who has the ability to read memories and transfer them to others. He has always kept this ability a secret, but one day he meets a young woman named Sarah who is suffering from amnesia. She has no memories of her past and she is desperate to know who she is.
Jake is drawn to Sarah and he decides to use his ability to help her. He reads her memories and transfers them to his own mind, and then he helps Sarah to remember who she is and where she came from.
As Sarah’s memories return, Jake realizes that she is in danger. She was part of a top-secret government experiment and there are people who will do anything to keep her from remembering what happened. Jake and Sarah go on the run together, trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers while they search for the truth.
As they travel, Jake and Sarah grow closer and they fall in love. Jake is torn between his desire to protect Sarah and his fear of revealing his own secret. But in the end, he decides to trust Sarah with the truth and he shows her how to use her own memory-reading ability.
Together, Jake and Sarah use their abilities to uncover the truth about the government experiment and bring the people responsible to justice. They finally find the peace and acceptance they have been searching for, and they live out the rest of their lives together, sharing their memories and experiences with each other.
How about that? There’s a bit of romance, there are government secrets, thrills and action. Oh, and there’s a sweet ending. What more could you ask for?
Well, obviously, you could expand on this outline from here. What I’ve found is that if you introduce additional details about the story, such as the personality traits of Jake and Sarah, more information about the secret experiments and so on, ChatGPT will actually expand on the story bit by bit. For example, I spent close to two hours today starting from scratch with a story idea I’ve already started to outline six months ago. I started with the same basic concept as above, slowly adding more information. I found that the initial outline was fairly generic, but as I added more information, it filled the generic aspects of the plot out.
In the above example, it might be places they travel. It could be the truth they uncover, the people that are after them. I found that with a bit of work, I could get an outline that had the high level details of the beginning, middle and end of the story. Finally, I asked for 50 chapters with a title summary for each. ChatGPT took the summary and broke it down into 50 chapters. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but it did it.
My conclusions on this point is this: yes, I think ChatGPT can create plot summaries, but you’ll get the best result if you do your story research first. Characters, locations, etc. The more information YOU feed into the conversation with the AI, the better result you get.
Assisting with Plot Holes
I’m currently re-reading a story I wrote several years ago with the aim of completely rewriting it. As I’m reading through it, I realize about a third of my way through the story that there are some major plot holes, holes that size of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. At this point, I’m actually stressing out a bit, because the story is 80,000 words written during NaNoWriMo (so very quickly) and it has some major flaws. It was the perfect test for ChatGPT.
I fed a few lines about the general situation into the chat. Within 30 seconds, I had six potential solutions staring back at me at the screen. Several of them were so elementary I’m embarrassed to even mention them. Yet, several of them were perfect. The best part is, I won’t even need to do any major rewriting to fit it all into the story.
I added a few other lines about other scenarios in the story and the result was the same, but this time for some backstory elements that needed fleshing out.
I will not go into details on this one, but is was a very helpful exercise.
How about the actual rewrite? Could I use ChatGPT to actually rewrite my text for the above-mentioned story and add more tension, for example? Or more romance? As it turns out, I have a short story I wrote a few years ago I could use for this experiment.
When I wrote this story, I had a word limit I had to work within. This meant that although I could squeeze my entire story in, I wasn’t able to flesh out the emotional aspect as much I would have liked. I wanted more tension to be clear. So, I asked ChatGPT to take a short section of the story I felt lacked some of this and rewrite it, adding more internal tension to the character. To compare, here’s the original section from this story:
Kate looked up at the approaching waitress, a steaming coffeepot in her hand. Gratefully, she pushed her empty cup towards the edge of the table and nodded.
“He was supposed to be here an hour ago.”
“Didn’t call, did he?”
Kate shook her head. “No, but it could be my phone too. The service has been flaky with this weather.”
“I’m sorry, hon.” The server poured the black coffee. “Let me know if you need anything, ok?”
“Thanks, Myrtle, I appreciate it.”
The server nodded and smiled, then returned to the cafe kitchen. Kate glanced at her phone again. There were no new messages, no phone calls, no voice messages. It was like he had fallen off the face of the earth.
At first, she had been angry. He knew how important this meeting was to her. What if something had happened? Had there been an accident on the way there? She should have insisted on a direct flight instead of the cross-state drive he had insisted on.
When the bottom of the coffee cup made another appearance, she’d had enough. She left a generous tip on the table and headed towards the door.
“Myrtle, would you mind telling Frank I went home if he shows up?”
“Of course, dear, of course. I’ll see you tomorrow morning?”
Kate smiled, nodded, and waved goodbye. She stopped at the front door and zipped up her coat and prepared her umbrella and shivered at the thought of leaving the warm and cozy coffee shop behind. With a deep sigh, she pushed the door open and stepped out into the rain.
Ok, so that’s the original. Here’s what ChatGPT gave me. It’s very similar, but with some added internal tension.
The waitress approached Kate with a steaming coffeepot in hand, causing her to snap out of her thoughts and look up. She eagerly pushed her empty cup towards the edge of the table and nodded, trying to hide the frustration in her voice.
“He was supposed to be here an hour ago.”
“Didn’t call, did he?” The waitress raised an eyebrow, sensing the tension in Kate’s demeanor. Kate shook her head, the knot in her stomach growing tighter.
“No, but it could be my phone too. The service has been unreliable with this weather.”
“I’m sorry, hon.” The waitress poured the coffee, trying to offer some comfort. “Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
“Thanks, Myrtle, I appreciate it.” Kate managed a smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. As the waitress returned to the kitchen, Kate couldn’t shake off the feeling of unease. She glanced at her phone again, but there were no new messages, no calls, no voicemails. It was like he had vanished into thin air.
At first, anger had boiled within her. He knew how important this meeting was to her, yet he had failed to show up without a word. But as the minutes ticked by, her anger gave way to worry. What if something had happened to him? An accident on the way there? She should have insisted on a direct flight instead of the cross-state drive he had stubbornly insisted on.
With a heavy heart, Kate drained the last drop of her coffee and left a generous tip on the table. She made her way to the door, her mind racing with fear.
“Myrtle, would you mind telling Frank I went home if he shows up?” Kate called out, her voice cracking.
“Of course, dear, of course.” Myrtle’s kind smile did little to ease Kate’s worries. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning?”
Kate forced a smile, nodded, and stepped out into the rain. As she zipped up her coat and prepared her umbrella, she shivered at the thought of leaving the warm and cozy coffee shop behind. With a deep sigh, she stepped out into the rain, wondering if she would ever see Frank again.
And there you have it. Re-written by ChatGPT with the ask of adding more internal tension. Did the AI succeed? To some extent, yes. No, it’s not written in my style and I would have used different words in several places. The edits also ran afoul of several of ProWritingAid’s checks. But, in general it gave me what I was looking for.
Obviously, there’s a lot more you can do with ChatGPT. This is about the extent I’ve tried using it at this point. I’ve seen examples of how it can improve a wide variety of other aspects of stories, so there’s more to learn.
What I have concluded so far, is this: I’m comfortable using ChatGPT to help me with story outlines, brainstorming for solutions to story issues and such, maybe even rewrites of sections like the above in order to get some inspiration on how to rewrite. But I think in general, you’ll see me doing my own writing. Although it’s convenient to have ChatGPT write it all out, I do want that personal touch on my writing.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore SudoWrite, a service that uses ChatGPT specifically to cater to writers. Through SudoWrite you can do many of the same things you can with ChatGPT directly, but it’s focused on writing, world building, character development and so on. SudoWrite can do the same re-writes as the one I shared above. You can expect to see a more thorough review and my thoughts about this piece of software in a few weeks time.
I’m also going to look at the new and improved Bing, powered by ChatGPT, and see how that’s different from using ChatGPT. That may take a little longer though since I just got access to that yesterday.
Until then, what are your thoughts on ChatGPT and AI as it relates to writing? Do you see it as a threat to your craft, or a helpful assistant that can help you speed up your process and ultimately improve your writing? Oh, and have you tried ChatGPT? What’s your experience? Leave a comment below, share your stories!