The introductory paragraph below was written entirely by an AI (artificial intelligence) writing assistant:
Once upon a time, there was a writer. And this writer wrote beautifully, but he was intimidated by the process of writing a creative story and spent hours creating his next masterpiece. But one day something changed when someone told him to use a new AI writing tool. Instead of spending hours writing, he could now write something in a matter of minutes…AI
But it’s not correct! AI story writing still has a long way to go. However, we can definitely benefit from AI tools when it comes to generating content ideas, increasing our productivity, originating better stories, and getting more creative writing done. This article will show you why and how.
The Story Writing and Creative Process
Developing stories, telling stories, and writing stories is a difficult process and a skill that takes many years to master. Whether you are writing fictional or non-fictional stories.
It’s a demanding art and craft because every story is made up of a series of moving parts-plot, character development, dialog, pacing, etc. – that must be woven together in a way that tells an entertaining or informative story to the reader or viewer.
As artificial intelligence makes its way into almost every area of professional activity, including complex ones, should not the same be true for story writing?
Story Challenges That Writers Face
The truth is that all writers have good days and bad days, regardless of the mental and physical attitude with which they approach writing.
Writer’s block can be a controversial topic. Some claim that it is a made-up phenomenon invented by those with a vested interest in selling a solution to the problem. Whether or not this is true, it is definitely true that every writer needs occasional or even frequent help to get their creative juices flowing.
Related: How to Avoid Writer’s Burnout
Daily Word Count
Another challenge that all writers face is word count. It is usually stated as a daily word count. If you are a professional writer, you will probably try to write at least 500 words per day. More likely, your goal is 1,000 words or more. Personally, I write at least 1,500 words of nonfiction every day.
My fiction writing is on top of that.
It’s a real challenge to maintain word flow day after day, especially at the first draft stage. But a strict word count is essential for long-term success because then you are ready for revisions and other steps in the writing process.
AI Enters the Writing Scene
That’s why the emergence of increasingly sophisticated AI writing apps has caught the attention of writers and publishers alike.
Anything that can help make some – or even much – of the writing process easier is being embraced with enthusiasm by many authors.
Some serious authors are using an AI assistant within their long-form writing process – a good indicator that the technology shows real promise. Even though many other writers distrust this technology and sometimes vehemently oppose it.
The central question remains: Can an AI write a story?
The Hardest Piece of the Story Puzzle: Story Meaning
Let’s get to the heart of the question.
For a story to have a real impact, it must have meaning for the audience. And constructing meaning in a story is a level of understanding and artistry that goes beyond just writing a story or working out its various elements.
The meaning of a story – let us call it Story Meaning – goes beyond even its theme, premise, or hypothesis. It is a complex and subtle bundle of intellectual and emotional factors that, taken together, form the core of a story and determine its success with audiences.
The meaning of a story is synonymous with the intent of the story you are telling. This is something that the writer often establishes at a very early stage in the development of the story, but it also evolves during the writing process.
This is true whether you plot or “panster” as you write – that is, whether you plan or let the ideas emerge and develop largely organically.
The Guiding Star
Story meaning is a guiding star or compass that serves as an essential engine for your story.
So when we examine whether AI can write a story, it’s not just about whether it can write realistic dialog, construct coherent scenes, stay true to character descriptions, and draw an accurate line through a plot.
There’s another test that must be passed: whether AI is able to create a story that makes sense to an audience, and touches them on an empathetic level.
This ability has to do with what the ancients called the Muse. It is not confined to the level of craft but has to do with imagination, creativity, and wisdom.
Every Story Has Already Been Told
It may sound like a far-fetched thought, but in a way, every story has already been told and retold. Whether it’s a romance novel, a thriller, a fantasy book, or any other genre.
The beauty and mystery of story is that the form in which these stories are told has endless variations, each of which is very nuanced. Even if they follow some sort of narrative formula for a marketable novel or short story.
It’s the myriad variations within the narrative patterns in which AI finds its place.
The reason is that the current generation of machine neural learning networks that underlie AI authors rely on vast databases of text patterns and the connections between them to work their magic.
The Unconscious Assistant
Essentially, GPT-3 and similar models read and store any text on the Internet and use an analysis of it to provide answers and continuations to text prompts that are remarkably coherent in grammar and semantics.
So in terms of understanding text and processing it almost instantly, AI is far better than any human. This also applies to numbers and music.
But that does not mean the AI can write a text loaded with empathy or meaning anywhere near as well as an experienced human author. That’s because the AI has no idea what the patterns it analyzes and the patterns it creates actually mean! Since it has no human heart, no human brain, and no human soul, it functions at the level of an extremely sophisticated, ultra-intelligent, and very literate assistant.
An assistant that lacks consciousness.
At least for now.
Variations in AI Writers
The tone the AI strikes is determined not only by the human interacting with it but also by the specific training each AI app has received from its developers.
That’s why some apps are much better suited for fiction writing, while others are better suited for advertising copy.
Over time and with training, AI writers get better at understanding and creating long texts. Even up to tens of sentences at a time.
Who Is the Driver
However, by their very nature, these results are not fully targeted.
After all, AI works within a framework of possibilities and probabilities – even if the context of what is written is fully stated and the AI “looks back” at hundreds of words, it does not have the overall understanding of the story that the human author has.
Nor does it have the human empathy and emotion to make decisions and judge what should come next in a given text to best serve the overall intent of the story.
It’s a bit like the difference between driving a car on a highway and driving yourself. The AI is being driven and can only react to what it sees on the road. The human is the driver of the car and can look at the big picture and consider all the road signs. And also the different consequences of the different possible outcomes before and behind each of those decisions.
What Kind of Stories Can AI Write?
AI is already being used by news organizations around the world to help them create news stories.
Many news organizations such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Press Association, sports broadcasters, and others are using AI to generate copy on a large scale – under the guidance of journalists, of course.
AI writing can also be used for content creation, advertising, press releases, and marketing materials. A variety of AI writing applications have been developed and trained using examples of advertising copy and business correspondence.
But what about long-form fiction stories?
Forget One-Click Story Writing
There have been numerous attempts to develop AI writers that can write an article or story with just one click by typing a simple question or a series of short questions.
So far, however, these attempts have been unsuccessful because AI writers are generally not sophisticated enough to write stories that resemble those of a human author.
Indeed, steering an AI through the morass of a story structure requires far more complex programming than is currently available.
What the AI can do is take a prompt, which can be either the text for several sentences above the cursor or a prompt specifically typed by the human author, and a general contextual guide, and writes to that.
Therefore, it is possible to create some paragraphs that are reasonably coherent with one click. But don’t expect the AI to be able to write a whole chapter!
Can AI Handle Core Story Tasks
There are a number of critical story elements, each of which requires coherence, causality, common sense, and knowledge to work well in an engaging story:
- Story structure
- Story Plot and storylines
- Character development and character arcs
- Conflict and tension
- Story arcs
AI can help ideate and write within each of these, as this screenshot of one AI writing assistant – Sudowrite shows:
Maintaining the Suspension of Disbelief
One of the hardest things to do as a story creator and writer is to keep the characters true to their story arc and to make sure that the action serves the central drive of the story at all stages.
Also, the emotional and psychological “truth” must be maintained throughout all phases of the story.
If the latter is not accomplished, the reader will no longer suspend disbelief. They will then stop reading.
For this reason, AI is currently best suited for novelists or authors of long-form fiction or nonfiction, when the author has already outlined the framework for the characters and plot of a story in detail.
The reason is that when used properly within a detailed framework – and a story is a narrative framework – AI can analyze the text and internalize the structure, then fill in gaps with plausible suggestions and contributions.
Related: How to Analyze a Story
Why Detailed Outlining Helps With AI
A pure “panster” author – that is, an author who does not create a plot or a detailed outline before writing – has an emerging framework in mind as they write – a framework that is constantly changing as the story develops on the page.
The problem for the AI in this type of writing is that it has no knowledge of the author’s plan and can only work based on the immediately preceding context on the page and perhaps the equivalent of a placeholder for the overall context.
However, if you have a detailed outline for your story, you can feed the AI notes and instructions, such as “when a character says something, have them look in a certain direction” or “what actions should they take in a certain situation,” etc. This can help the AI produce much more coherent and convincing results.
Whether you use a tool like Sudowrite or Chibi, it’s relatively easy to play with the AI and its suggestions to create parts of the above story elements that can be incorporated into your final work.
Not only can it speed up scene writing considerably, but it can also suggest ideas for developing scenes and plot twists that you would not have thought of otherwise.
Retaining a Coherent Style
The amazing thing about the new generation of AI writers is how well they can adapt to an author’s style. This is especially evident when an author’s style is very distinctive or idiosyncratic.
The AI does this either by pattern matching the previous text against the huge database it already has. Or, as with Chibi, for example, by allowing the author to tune the output by giving the AI certain patterns to follow and then applying them to the particular piece being written.
AI Plot Generators
Ever since, in 1928, dime novelist William Wallace Cook grabbed the 36 possible plot patterns identified by French critic Georges Polti in 1894 and turned them into Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots (still available, by the way) that digs into no less than 1,462 variations of plot development literally done by number, authors have looked for inspiration and guidance for their plots.
Is there an AI story generator, that will simply spit out a readymade story idea and plot on demand?
Well, amazingly, there kind of is!
In fact, there are a number of them (listed with links at the bottom of this article).
Here’s one I generated just now, on complete autopilot in an AI story generator tool called Plot Generator:
Would I use it as is? Of course not. Might it supply some inspiration for a new, or existing plot? Absolutely!
Some of the Better AI Writing Apps
The nonlinear writing game app AI Dungeon is what got me into my AI writing journey, to begin with! With preset story templates and an interrogative style of play, AI Dungeon can produce some hilarious and sometimes impressive results.
Sudowrite is currently my AI writing software of choice for fiction writing. It has been designed specifically for those looking for AI novel writing software, and other fiction formats. Although, Chibi below might catch up…
Chibi AI is a newly-released but already great AI writer. The unique feature is the ease of tuning the outputs of the AI to match your own writing style, enabling the writing of quality content more rapidly than otherwise would be the case. With an excellent interface, it’s now my AI writer of choice for articles and nonfiction long-form content. I used it to help me write this blog post.
Jasper AI (formerly Conversion AI). This AI tool aims to be an all-rounder, but in my opinion, Jasper AI’s forte is really business writing and copywriting. It’s not cheap – Jasper AI currently costs [PRICE], but is ideal for marketing, content writing, and sales teams.
Acquired by Jasper AI, the Shortly AI software still has adherents, but potential buyers would be well advised to look first at Chibi AI or Jasper AI.
As its name suggests, Copy AI was squarely aimed at the sales and copywriting community but has recently developed various tools for long-form writing. Perhaps because of the way it has been trained, the language of the outputs is often quite dynamic and sales in tone – which might be an advantage, depending on your specific use case.
Although not an AI writing assistant, InstaText is unique in the way it can take a very long piece of text and sort out the grammar, tone, and style with one click. It’s definitely a very useful aid to help publish high-quality content at scale.
AI Plot Generators