By now you’re all completely familiar with Chat GPT (Bing, Bard, etc.) and why writers are anxious about it all—
That’s actually a little joke for April Fool’s Day. I know enough writers (thousands) to know: learning about the explosion of AI and its implications to their livelihood is one of those things writers are really good at shoving in a mental closet to look at later. But there is no joke about AI.
Writers who are paying attention are worried —
That AI programs (Bing, Bard, GPT-4, and whatever programs are out next week and the week after that) are supercharged competition for an already competitive field.
When or if they let themselves think about it, writers are wondering how they can keep up with the exponential learning and growth of AI.
If they’ve done a lot of research into AI and the future of writing, writers may be wondering how to get better (really fast) at “prompt engineering,” or stressing over whether they’re a good enough editor/rewriter to get one of those jobs that are being predicted to take over the jobs of most writers.
And there might be a tiny bit (!) of anxiety over the surveys of AI experts who consistently put the chances of AI actually destroying humanity at 10-30%.
Let’s face it, that last point is something that may turn out to be quite a bit more relevant than the question of whether AI will replace writers. The more I read, the more it feels like debating that question is the modern equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.
But it’s also something I know I can’t do anything about. It does give me existential thoughts of, like, retiring earlier and just traveling—even more than we already do. But that’s not realistic, because the process of writing, living in a story world populated by characters I’m creating to suit myself, is one of my greatest pleasures in life, my bottom line motivation for writing. There is no way in hell I’m retiring from writing (at the same time, I am definitely going to do even more traveling).
So it’s important to me to know what I can and can’t do with AI to write the kinds of novels that I write, and that I want to keep writing.
And because what I’m discovering could be helpful to some or a lot of you, I’m going to start including it in some of these posts, and as with other topics, start collecting information in one post.
I’m not going to summarize AI for you. Other writers who have been working with versions of these bots for years have been doing that far better and more knowledgeably than I could. Instead I’ll link (below) to some of the most relevant pieces I’ve read, for you to browse through. There are plenty of links to other articles from those.
Reading of course is a great, quick overview—but no substitute for actually jumping in and using these bots, so I’ve also included links below to get you started. But first:
Here’s my bottom line experience with Chat GPT, in a few basic questions & answers that are easy to read right now, in a few minutes:
Could I, Alex, use Chat GPT, etc. to generate a novel?
Yes. IF I plotted it myself and only with a LOT of prompting.
Would it be a novel I’d want to read?
Absolutely not. I’d bail on it as fast as I bail on most novels, movies, or TV series. Which is fast.
Would it be a novel I’d be proud or satisfied to have written?
Hah. Not even close.
Will AI get better at prompt-directed novel writing?
Is AI going to be extensively used in every media?
It already is.
And by the way, it’s great at producing fascinating, weird little pieces like these. I’ve heard it called “basically a meme-generator,” and that’s very true.
How long before AI can write a novel without an actual writer prompting every single step?
I have no idea. It can’t yet.
Has AI so far been any help writing my current novel?
Not at all, and it burns up a lot of time that I could be spending, you know, writing the book.
Has there been anything useful I’ve come across that I can pass on to you?
I definitely see some immediate uses for the admin of writing— but that’s a separate post! For the actual process of writing, the answer is Not yet. When I find useful applications I’ll say so.
But—I’m an experienced writer with a whole career of writing commercial and thematically interesting material. AI is going to have to do a whole lot better before it can do what I already know how to do pleasurably and profitably. Right now even experienced prompting from other skilled authors generates what I consider mind-numbing pablum. But then again, that’s a good description of a lot of books, movies, and TV.
Would I have found Chat GPT more useful when I was at an earlier stage of my writing career? Maybe. I’d like to hear what other people think!
The real question is: Are you a writer whose process could be productively assisted by a bot?
The answer is: I don’t know—are you?
Meaning, you won’t know until you do some serious experimenting of your own.
Am I going to keep experimenting with it?
Because if I were moving to a different country that spoke another language, I would for sure be learning that language.
And that’s what this feels like to me. We are all moving to another country, or maybe universe, where all the rules are going to change. We can’t keep up with the pace of that change, but we can learn the language.
So, I suggest you:
Set aside some time to do some reading about other writers’ and scientists’ experiences with AI. And if this is new territory for you, be gentle with yourself, because there are some pretty trippy implications, possibly apocalyptic, and honestly, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel some anxiety about it. (Anyone remember the book Future Shock?) But — hopefully there will be some exhilaration, too!
Five Remarkable Chats That Will Help You Understand ChatGPT
NY Times series on AI
Could an A.I. Chatbot Rewrite My Novel?
A.I. Is Being Built by People Who Think It Might Destroy Us
Open letter by artificial intelligence experts and industry executives citing potential risks to society
International Thriller Writers’ Author Survey on Use of AI
The WGA Has an AI Proposal and It Needs to Become a Lot Smarter — Analysis
Sign on to some of these sites and do some experimenting of your own:
To save you some time, Craig can report that Bard isn’t being anywhere near as impressive as Chat GPT, and I’ve read that from other people, too.
And remember, none of this is a substitute for working forward on your own book or script! Be assured that what you’re learning here on this site and with the workbooks is how to plot. Which is the part that everyone so far agrees is the part that AI can’t do. Even if you go all in with AI, you are the one who is going to have to put plot prompts into the box to get the bot to work with you.
If you haven’t read last week’s post on THE PLAN, you can also do that this week to put you even farther ahead of anything AI can do for you!
Or use this checklist to make sure you’ve set up (or or considering) everything you need in your Act I as we move into Essential Elements of Act II.
And as I continue to experiment, I’ll keep you updated with discoveries and tips.
But not this week. This week I’m going to Rome. I may even take up the fiddle.
So how many of you have done your own experimenting with Chat GPT, or other AI writing programs?
And how about that whole “end of humanity” thing? Is that just regular human doomsaying in the face of new technology, or have we finally gone too far?
Get the workbooks:
Stealing Hollywood ebook, $4.99, also available as print workbook
Writing Love ebook, $2.99
Know someone who needs to read this post? Why not share it?
Need some help? The Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop is available online, as a self-paced course with all the videos, assignments, movie breakdowns and personalized feedback you need to get that book written this year, 15 minutes at time.
In three parts, and you only pay for what you use.
If you have a first draft of a book or script already, or need more feedback, get targeted help getting you over the finish line in The Writers’ Room.
All material from Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, © Alexandra Sokoloff
This led me to a conversation with my husband, who is a theoretical physicist. (I've played a little bit with Chat GPT - but I don't want to keep at it, because it will be learning and improving if I do! Ha. That's probably about as effective at saving humanity as recycling glass is at saving the environment, while wars wage in the northern hemisphere...) The theoretical physicist is much more fatalistic about all this than I am: he feels our generation (we're in our 50s) is done; we've had our chance at achieving our aspirations, and it's not our world any more. He also finds the idea of AI fascinating; he asks could it do any worse damage than we have already? Is it any more likely to wipe out humanity than we already are? And if you could ask future AI to write you a novel on the spot, with, say, a set of particular elements (e.g. prehistoric civilisation encountering a futuristic civilisation and getting everything right about the colonial encounter instead of everything wrong) which you just felt like reading on that particular cold, grey, autumnal Sunday, mightn't that be an incredible experience as a reader? When I said, but why keep writing, if AI is going to surpass what humans can produce? He said, 'why keep writing now if there is Alice Munro in the world?' There will alway be excellence and 'freaks of genius' so much better than 99% of us anyway ... and now he's sent me a Richard Feynman lecture to watch. I might be back....
Hi Alex, in your article you write that AI experts say the chance of AI destroying humanity at 10-30%. What do you mean by “destroying humanity” -- making bad writing or blowing up the world?