AI language models like ChatGPT and Bard are here to stay, whether writers want to use them or not. Personally, I think the answer is clear: yes, you should absolutely use AI to write stories. The genie is out of the bottle, and you can’t put it back in, so you might as well make friends with the genie.
AI language models are new, which means this is your best chance to start learning how to use them. If you start figuring out how these chatbots can improve your writing now, you won’t get left behind. Even better—you might pioneer some unique writing power before anyone else does.
The truth: most people have no idea what writing with an AI looks like.
Right now, I don’t think ChatGPT or Bard can “write a compelling story.” It can barely write a coherent story. Right now, AI does two things really well: research, and making shortcuts in your workflow.
Why AI Won’t Write the Story For You
If you ask ChatGPT, “should you use AI to write stories?” it gives a predictable “yes,” right before launching into an explanation of its limitations.
“There are also some drawbacks to using AI to write fictional stories. AI-generated writing can lack the emotional depth and nuance that comes from human experience and perspective, which can make it feel flat or unengaging to readers. Additionally, AI-generated writing may lack originality and creativity since it relies on existing data to create its output.”
In my experience, longer pieces of text from ChatGPT are riddled with questionable logic. The longer the piece (like a short story or a book), the more questionable the logic. Most likely, it isn’t applying logic at all, at least not about the meaning of the words. Rather, it’s trying to predict what word makes the most sense to say next.
Thus, it fails spectacularly at engaging human emotions beyond a few sentences. I believe this could change, however I don’t think it’s “about to change.” The leap from “making sentences” to “making stories” is so vast, and complex, that it will probably take something more advanced than a Large Language Model to jump the gap. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but currently, any story ChatGPT or Bard spits out for you will require monumental amounts of editing, revising, and tweaking to be interesting, let alone “worth reading.”
However, these AI tools do yield a few extremely useful techniques for writers. Specifically, when it comes to language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Bard, they can be used to improve your writing workflow:
How Writers Can Use AI Language Models like ChatGPT or Bard
- Research Faster (This is HUGE)
Instead of googling a question, digging through articles, and getting distracted while looking for the answer, let the chatbot do it for you. I use this one extensively, because it prevents me from getting distracted by the rest of the internet. It’s not a replacement for in-depth absorption of a specific topic—but you can get surprisingly useful details out of it.
- Edit for Clarity and Brevity
Paste a few hundred words into the chat box and ask the bot to help you improve the language or the clarity of your message. The bots can help you write for a specific knowledge level (5th grade or expert, etc.), or just give general tips on improving your writing.
Note that it might struggle to understand or fully appreciate more evocative or nuanced language. It works best on “plain language.”
- Understand General Facts
If you need to understand a concept, preferably something the internet already has information about, ChatGPT can write a damn good explanation. ChatGPT does a great job of consuming a ton of information on a subject, and regurgitating it in a simple, easy-to-read format.
If you need to understand, for example, how airplanes fly, or what life as a 1800s seamstress looked like, these tools are a massive boon.
- Generate Names and Ideas
With the right prompts, AI will help you discover some wonderful character names … as long as you know what to look for (see the link for more info).
What’s truly impressive is its idea generation. You can ask the AI to “help me establish a few cultural norms of this fictional species,” and it will give you a few delightful ideas. Not new ideas, but good ideas that will help your creative thoughts take control. It’s a great tool to spark invention.
- Summarize Your Scenes
You can build a whole outline of your novel with AI. It might be tedious having to enter in chapter after chapter, but you could ask the AI to summarize each chapter for you, so you have your entire novel written out in bullet points. This could be hugely helpful for fixing plot problems (though I prefer to plot before I write, which lets me fix plot problems before I write chapter 1).
By far, the most useful tool from this list has been the research. I saved maybe an hour or two last week by using ChatGPT to research small things, instead of letting myself get distracted by the Well of Infinity that is the internet.
What AI Struggles to Write
AI chatbots are not ready to write novels or any kind of story. They’re not ready to replace writers, period.
Here are a few crucial elements that these AI language models can’t do well:
It lies. Constantly. It doesn’t care about being correct, it cares about predicting “the next best word in a sentence.” That’s it.
It can’t write with a voice: have you read anything written by ChatGPT? It’s clear and professional, but it’s also dry and boring. Mind-numbing, almost. I have yet to see it write with a voice that feels unique, let alone a compelling voice.
It fails to understand emotional context: It doesn’t care about the emotions of characters or readers. At least, not yet. It’s not trained on getting the biggest laugh or swoon or sob out of you, so it’s just not good at the drama of writing. ChatGPT says it “may struggle to recognize sarcasm, irony, or humor, which can impact the tone and meaning of a piece of writing.” These are fundamental elements of great storytelling—without them, it won’t write something worth reading.
It can’t combine ideas into new forms: AI chatbots can take two kinds of sentences, and smash them together. But it can’t really take different ideas and synthesize them into something new. For now, humans are still the masters of invention.
It can’t write great dialogue: so far, every dialogue line the chatbots wrote was nonsensical or lacking impact. They were just words, loosely related to the surrounding content. If you want to write better dialogue, read this guide instead.
It won’t take risks: both Bard and ChatGPT seem obsessed with staying in their lanes. Stories should go places have nobody has ever been to before—which is not what these AI are designed to do.
It won’t speak on sensitive topics: Every book I’ve ever read has at least one sensitive topic. You can’t write a compelling story without putting at least one hard concept into the main theme of your story.
It doesn’t store long-term details: the longer your text, the more likely the chatbots will forget key pieces of information. This means they struggle massively with context, realism, relational world building, and setting. It doesn’t put characters very firmly into a scene.
It can’t create characters: AI can’t create interesting characters. I know this, because I wrote a book on how to write fantastic characters that explains the process from start to finish. Put simply, the process requires so much creativity and experience, which must be combined with experimentation and critical thinking, that I question if AI will ever be able to make original, addictive characters who keep readers glued to the page.
AI language models change as fast as people use them. It’s what they do. But I don’t think chatbots are about to jumpstart the singularity and render all human thought obsolete. For many reasons, stories and books and series written by human authors are going to be around for a long, long time.
However, I still think you should attempt to use AI to write. The tools are here, now, and they’re here to stay. If you love experimenting, AI can help you pull out increasingly more creative ideas, or it can comb through pages of text and help you find information you might’ve missed. Use them to dig into meaningful ideas, or to create a more focused, richer writing process.
AI might not revolutionize your writing process (unless you write informational blogs for a living) but if you start poking around, you will quickly find a few ways to improve your writing.
My question for you: have you used AI to improve your writing process yet? How?