With the rise of new artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, I keep hearing this question: “will AI replace writers?”
The truth is, you’ve probably been using AI tools for years: Google, social media, or even your favorite grammar tool—all of these make heavy use of algorithms and AI.
Here’s a better question: “How can I use AI to write better stories?”
Like the slate tablets and graphite pencils that came before, AI tools are just that—tools. I’ve seen too many articles trying to fear-bait writers into worrying about AI’s power to “overtake human artists.” Meanwhile, wise authors are already using AI to supercharge their imaginations and craft more compelling worlds.
So, I say rejoice! For the age of AI-enhanced writing is upon us. This article will give you 3 ways to use AI tools to improve your fiction writing. I’ll tell you right now, I’ve spent hours playing around with #3. It’s amazing …
1. Use ChatGPT to Brainstorm Character Names and Book Titles
The first tool, ChatGPT, describes itself as “an artificial intelligence language model designed to answer questions … and engage in conversations with users.” It uses text data and natural language processing techniques to “understand” and respond to text-based inputs.
Put simply, it’s a chatbot that tries to answer anything you ask or tell it.
It does this by predicting the next best word in a sequence—for some truly amazing results. It can answer research questions, write descriptions, and help you brainstorm a ton of ideas in moments. That last is key for writers.
Do you ever get stuck naming your characters? I do. Sometimes I write in a placeholder name. Sometimes, I try out a bunch of different names until I can’t stand the sound of my voice. ChatGPT can help you brainstorm a list of coherent names that you can use to find (or help brainstorm) your final character name.
Here’s how it works:
Start a new chat with ChatGPT, and ask it to generate a list of names. Be as specific as possible—try to include culture, setting, time. You can even ask it to give you names in the style of another author.
Note: I strongly recommend you read this guide on naming characters before diving in, because it will help you pick out character names that actually add to the flavor and texture of your world—instead of generic, robot-generated multi-syllabic strings.
How to Use ChatGPT to Create Character Names
You can say “Give me ten original names that sound like characters from a Leigh Bardugo novel” or “Give me a list of original names that sound like old norse, but are not real names.”
This method can help you rapidly iterate hundreds of names (and sounds) to make your characters’ names pop out. Some of the most evocative names come from emulating your favorite authors. ChatGPT can *sort of* create names that sound like they’d come from a specific author, especially if that author has a unique naming style.
For example, compare the character names from a Charles Dickens novel to Ursula K. Le Guin’s work:
Prompt: “Create 5 names in the style of an Ursula K. Le Guin novel.”
- Arvetha Noem
- Caiar Thea
- Eryndor Valien
- Irsil Nor
- Lirin Belen
Prompt: “Create 5 names in the style of a Charles Dickens novel.”
- Augustus Peabody
- Arabella Twill
- Barnabas Fitch
- Constance Snodgrass
- Ebenezer Blackwell
But watch out—you will notice that ChatGPT only returns one style of name. The letters and names will vary, but you will notice a pattern. The generated names will start to feel the same, and you’ll have to alter your prompts to get more nuanced ideas out of ChatGPT.
How to Use ChatGPT to Create Book Titles
Coming up with a great title for your book is a scientific art form: you have to consider what kind of language will get your readers excited—while also delivering a simple, clear, marketable idea.
ChatGPT won’t necessarily give you “the perfect title” for your book, but it can help you get your creative juices flowing. Use prompts that are as specific as possible, and keep trying until you’ve hit a gold vein of good titles. A quick example:
“What are 5 great book titles about a dragon rider?”
Returns this list:
- Winged Guardian
- Dragon’s Oath
- Flames of the Dragon Rider
- The Last Dragon Knight
- Scales of Destiny
But if you start throwing in details about your story …
“What are 5 great book titles for a book about a dragon rider who steals a dragon from an evil lord?”
- Dragon’s Bane
- Flight of the Stolen Dragon
- Dragon Rider’s Heist
- Blood of the Fire Drake
- Shadow of the Wyrm Lord
Both lists have excellent options, but the second does a better job of telling your readers what kind of story to expect, and might do a better job of attracting the right audience.
2. Use ChatGPT to Worldbuild More Unique Factions and Cultures
Need a unique fantasy species or alien?
Want to add more history and lore into your world?
ChatGPT can help you dream up surprisingly detailed ideas for your factions and cultures, especially those inspired by real-world analogues. You don’t need to use these details exactly—again, I strongly suggest using these prompts as launching points for your own creativity, or else you risk losing your creative skills. Remember, ChatGPT is only a text prediction tool. It will borrow from the most popular sources, and combine ideas in interesting (though sometimes nonsensical) ways. You’re the writer—use your brain to turn these algorithm-generated ideas into good ideas.
Here are a few prompt ideas:
- “What would Tolkien’s orcs culture be like if the orcs were friendly?”
- “What would a space-faring faction look like if they had eradicated war and poverty?”
Or, here’s one to help you generate a whole culture:
Prompt: “Create a few cultural aspects of a faction that is made of jellyfish.”
- Communal living: Jellyfish are known for their group living, so this faction may have a strong sense of community and interdependence among its members.
- Non-verbal communication: As jellyfish do not have a centralized brain, they communicate with each other through chemical and tactile signals. Therefore, this faction may rely on non-verbal cues to communicate with each other.
- Fluidity: Jellyfish are known for their fluid and graceful movement. This faction may value adaptability and flexibility in their lifestyle and decision-making process.
- Bioluminescence: Some species of jellyfish are bioluminescent, producing colorful light shows. This faction may have a fascination with light and color, incorporating it into their art and culture.
- Non-aggression: Jellyfish are passive creatures that typically avoid confrontation. This faction may value peaceful coexistence and non-aggression towards other factions, preferring to avoid conflict whenever possible.
And, to turn that culture into a more advanced alien species, I added this prompt:
Prompt: “Create a few cultural aspects of a faction that evolved from hyper-intelligent jellyfish.”
- Highly developed communication: With their hyper-intelligence, this faction would have developed a complex system of communication that could be beyond human comprehension.
- Technologically advanced: With their intelligence and the ability to manipulate their surroundings with their tentacles, this faction may have developed advanced technology that relies on complex biotech.
- Collective decision making: As jellyfish are known for their group living and hive mind tendencies, this faction may value collective decision making rather than individualistic choices.
- Cyclical nature: Jellyfish go through various stages in their life cycle, and this faction may value the cyclical nature of life and the importance of renewal and regeneration.
- Exploration and curiosity: With their hyper-intelligence, this faction may value exploration and discovery, venturing out into the unknown and uncovering new mysteries of the universe.
Combining prompts together allows you to deepen ChatGPT’s responses. You can take the ideas you love, discard the ones you don’t, and add a few of your own to create a wholly unique alien species. In this case, it helped me dream of ways an “evolved jellyfish species” could realistically fit together in my world.
3. Use AI to Generate Art for Your Characters
My favorite way to enhance my stories with AI? Generating art for my characters.
I don’t use the art to sell my stories. Instead, I use the art to help me think through a character and get to know them better. This technique helps:
- Spark your imagination when creating new characters
- Envision your character as a real person—making it easier to write
- Add unique details and personality to existing characters
If you can write interesting characters that leap off the page and keep readers hooked from page 1, you will keep readers glued to your books. It’s one of the hardest skills in writing (which is why I wrote a whole book about it, called Fantastic Characters) and if you can master it, you will sell thousands of books and gain the audience you deserve.
With AI, you can do what every writer throughout the ages has dreamed of doing: create high-quality art of your characters, almost instantly.
When you have a concrete, evocative image of your character in front of you, it changes the way you think about that character. Using art helps you imagine them as a living, breathing person—instead of as a string of character descriptions and motivations—and it makes your writing so much more impactful.
Lately, I’ve been creating images of all my main characters with different sets of gear and clothes, and taking action in settings relevant to my story (like in sneaking around a guarded shipyard or riding a bike across the desert).
How to Prompt AI to Create Character Art
Most AI art tools use language tools to understand your descriptions. The key to getting the most out of these tools is to be as detailed as possible:
- What is your character wearing?
- What unique objects are they holding on to?
- What color is their hair, their skin, or their clothes?
- What are they standing or sitting on?
- What action are they taking in this scene?
- What does the backdrop look like?
You can get extremely precise with your description; from lighting to the artist’s style to aspect ratio. For me, the goal is to get an image that inspires me to write about that character, so I try not to spend too much time working with the AI for the perfect image—otherwise, you will spend hours iterating. As with all great character descriptions, only focus on the most important and unique details. Remember, the point is to write better stories—not to spend more time generating more art—so let good enough be good enough.
I’m mostly looking for profiles, action shots, and images of my main characters’ clothes and gear. I use these images to help me remember the character as a real, solid person while I write, and it’s amazing how much this helps. There’s something about having a specific picture in mind that helps my imagination run wild.
Here are two Midjourney portraits from my latest Science Fiction novel, Pacifist:
Writers, Use AI to Enhance Your Creativity (Not Replace It)
I don’t think the sky is falling—yet.
I don’t think AI is about to replace authors. Current AI models are ready to tackle most language uses, but stories are magnitudes more complex than language. Given that most novels are many stories woven together into a complex-yet-interdependent narrative, I can’t imagine how long it will be until AI writes a coherent, best-selling novel.
Maybe it will happen. Maybe it will never happen. Personally, I hope we never get to that point—but that has more to do with my human ego than anything else.
However, if you ignore AI, you’re going to miss out on some excellent tools to help you brainstorm and improve your writing. Like all the tools that came before, these AI tools can help writers tell better stories, sell more books, and uplift millions of readers worldwide.
Keep dreaming and keep writing, dear author.
– P. S. Hoffman