How the AI ChatGPT Got Me Unstuck As a Fiction Writer
Robots are our friends... sort of. (This article is the first in a series about AI and robotics).
And mental robots — so-call "artificial intelligence" (AI) software systems — are already available that can do rather remarkable simulations of things like human language, using what are called "models" run on computer-based "neural networks".
Neural net software models and mimics mathematically, in a simplified manner, the way our brain's systems of neurons supposedly work to process information in a parallel manner. Basically, neurons, whether in a slug or a pig or a human brain, "learn" from the patterns of inputs how statistically to form output patterns in a way that is useful, or "meaningful" within a certain context, more or less. This usefulness or adaptation refines over time in a way such one could call it a "model" for doing stuff, like text output or making images on a screen.
Fiction! Yay! Wrote the beginnings of a new story I'd had the idea for, and notes for, for years (forthcoming: "Identity Shift").
It was a very interesting experience last night, finally writing some fiction after years of only being happy (more or less) with the non-fiction stuff I'd put out. I'd felt that academia had "ruined me" for writing fiction. After all, I'd written fiction stories when I was a kid and a teenager, and at the beginning of college – stuff I was somewhat happy with and others liked.
But after all the academic writing I'd done (a habit that continued for decades), whenever I tried to write fiction — other than a plot out outline or notes of ideas and philosophy — it felt forced, contrived, stilted, kind of cheesy.
So last night I finally got some traction on this particular germ of an idea. It came about in an interesting way: I'd read this article about an AI writing assistant tool that a writer put together. He used publicly available software tools and merely glued them together in a useful way to help him write science fiction. You can read more of Robin Sloan's work on this here if you like.
This led me to look into the particular language processing model that he used, called RNN (recurrent neural networks), and see how it was different from another AI language modeler that just came out, called ChatGPT. I wanted to know if ChatGPT was better for use as a writing assistant. It sounded like it was, in general...
Anyway, I then started trying out ChatGPT, and quickly realized I would need to be extremely specific and clear in my prompts. When I asked it for help writing fiction, it answered in a general way how to write fiction.
Can you write fiction?
As a language model, I am able to write any type of text, including fiction. However, it is important to note that I do not have personal experiences or creative ideas of my own, so my writing will always be based on patterns and information that I have learned from the text I was trained on.
If you would like me to write a piece of fiction for you, I can certainly try my best to do so based on the prompts and guidelines you give me. It might be helpful for you to provide me with some specific details about the story you have in mind, such as the genre, setting, character descriptions, and plot points. With this information, I can use my language processing abilities to generate a piece of fiction that aligns with your vision.
Then looking at some examples of prompts, I realized it would need to be more direct, such as "Write me the first paragraph of a story with a character named Fred that wakes up in bed one morning only to find out that..." or whatever.
Since the AI needed some kind of definitive input like this, some kind of seed to work with, it forced me to clearly state a summary of exactly what I wanted to write, the main idea of the story and plot, and begin writing a first sentence, then a first paragraph, to get things going… in a totally impersonal way (rather than imagining a human audience, or waiting for "inspiration", and not having any clear idea). Then one thing led to another, imagining things in specific detail as I went along, writing ten paragraphs of fiction – and shockingly, I was happy with it!
What I wrote was engaging, interesting, kept me reading; it had some life to it, and no longer felt forced or somehow disconnected and fake or cheesy, as when I had tried to write fiction it the last however many years (well, except when I was a kid or teen, or in my early twenties perhaps, before college, the big university, warped my game as it were, when I had to write like an academic scholar, and try and impress…). Now this was fun…
Then one thing led to another, one sentence just naturally more or less following the next, as I imagined the scenario. The story unfolded, and the juice of interest was felt, as it became fairly obvious what to write to move it forward, sentence by sentence.
Occurred to me later it had a kind of journalistic style, but at the same time completely fantastical, made up… I like that juxtaposition.
And the theme that comes out is naturally philosophical – what has been called "speculative fiction", or science fiction (always my favorite genre). In many respects, it will also be non-dual or "spiritual", insofar as it relates to the perennial question, of “who am I?”, or what I am or That I am, and what is real, and how to live, how to be happy... stay tuned.