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Can a Computer Write Your novel? Well, What Do You Want To Say?

These tools are sure to become a staple in the hot and time-sensitive market for boutique formula fiction

Jennifer Lepp was behind schedule with her latest detective novel, Bring Your Beach Owl (2022), featuring a detective witch in central Florida.

Through Kindle Direct, under the pen name of Leanne Leeds, Lepp independently publishes what she calls “potato chip books”, making over US$100k annually. Amazon creates “microclimates” for readers so that genre writers can tailor their work precisely to a market, as she does: “paranormal cozy mystery.” But it’s a business where deadlines matter. Readers have many other choices.

As Josh Dzieza tells it at The Verge, Lepp begged developers for a beta test of Sudowrite, aimed at fiction writers. It’s one of the programs created from OpenAI’s language generator GPT-3:

Authors paste what they’ve written into a soothing sunset-colored interface, select some words, and have the AI rewrite them in an ominous tone, or with more inner conflict, or propose a plot twist, or generate descriptions in every sense plus metaphor.

Josh Dzieza, “The Great Fiction of AI” at The Verge (July 20, 2022)

Dzieza, at The Verge is upfront about the limitations of these programs, which absorb unthinkably large reams of text and arrange them by the topic requested, in logical order:

But ultimately, GPT-3’s entire world is words or, to be precise, mathematical representations of common sequences of characters called tokens — and that can cause it to behave strangely. It might happen to give sensible responses when asked about something people have written abundantly and correctly about. But ask which is heavier, a goldfish or a whale, and it will tell you a goldfish. Or ask what Napoleon said about hamburgers, and it will say, “Hamburgers are the food of the gods.” It’s just making a guess based on statistical patterns in language, and that may or may not have any correlation to the world as humans understand it. Like a good bullshitter, it’s better at form and style than substance. Even when writing fiction, where factuality is less of an issue, there’s an art to getting it to do what you want.

Josh Dzieza, “The Great Fiction of AI” at The Verge (July 20, 2022)

If you want to try one, here are The TechReviewersfour best AI novel writing programs (May 7, 2022):

Jasper, the winner (10,000 words free, $49/mo for the basic package) Note that this tool is primarily marketed to copywriters.

ShortlyAI (two months free, $65/mo) The marketing copy assumes that your biggest problem is writer’s block.

Closers COPY ($49.99/mo) This one seems targeted more to businesses. The sales page was, we are told, mostly written by robot. As it happens, that page was unusually hard to navigate, with eye-popping claims obstructing straight-up explanations.

FraseAI ($44.99/mo, 5-day money-back guarantee) “One of the coolest things about Frase is that their AI writing module is NOT based on OpenAI and GPT-3. This means that the outputs from this tool will differ wildly from the first two AI writing software solutions (Jasper & ShortlyAI) listed within this article.” – The TechReviewers. That’s a bit like the search engine Brave, which uses different search technology from Google, so different choices often result.

Sudowrite (in beta) also offers a free trial, $10/mo thereafter.

Is there a risk of losing our originality to AI writing tools?

When Jennifer Lepp started using the program, she had told herself she wouldn’t use anything it provided unedited. But she got more comfortable with the idea as she went along.

It’s just words, she thought. It’s my story, my characters, my world. I came up with it. So what if a computer wrote them?

Josh Dzieza, “The Great Fiction of AI” at The Verge (July 20, 2022)

Whether dependence is a risk depends on what one wants to say and why. Dzieza thoughtfully observes,

In any case, originality isn’t the primary objective for people using Jasper. They’re using it to generate Google-optimized blog posts about products they’re selling or books that will serve as billboards on Amazon or Twitter threads and LinkedIn posts to establish themselves as authorities in their field. That is, they’re using it not because they have something to say but because they need to say something in order to “maintain relevance” — a phrase that I heard from AI-using novelists as well — on platforms already so flooded with writing that algorithms are required to sort it.

Josh Dzieza, “The Great Fiction of AI” at The Verge (July 20, 2022)

If you are struggling to express images and ideas that are not ceaselessly aired on the internet, such tools might be an impediment: those oft-seen images and ideas will come streaming at you — in stifling numbers perhaps. That said, these tools are sure to become a staple in the hot and time-sensitive market for boutique formula fiction.

You may also wish to read:

New OpenAI art program does NOT claim copyright for AI. As DALL-E 2, which generates blended images in response to key words, moves into the art world, a key question has just been settled. That’s good, says Robert J. Marks, author of Non-Computable You: “Images generated by AI should be no more copyrightable than Google search engine results.”

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Can a Computer Write Your novel? Well, What Do You Want To Say?