Writing a novel with AI

With all the excitement over AI, the big question remains:

Can AI write a novel for you?

The simple answer is yes – AI can write a novel with a lot of assistance. However, it’s not as easy as some people like to claim. AI writing books and sites claim that all you need to do is provide a 100-word synopsis, and in the time it takes to make a pizza, AI will spit out a novel.

First, that’s not enough material for AI to work with.

Second, AI doesn’t provide hundreds of pages of text in a response.

(If anyone actually knows a site that produces 2000 word responses to input and doesn’t charge $200 a year, let me know.)

I’ve used AI to help write a lot of different things, from articles to interview questions. Articles aren’t bad because it’s following a bulleted list of items and they are short. It still needs a lot of revision though.

Interview questions are easy since AI scrapes that from existing sources. Typing, “What are the common interview questions for a QA position,” will give the same results as AI. No real magic there.

However, when you want AI to be “creative,” you’re in some interesting territory where things fall apart pretty fast.

AI can come up with some decent phrases every now and again, and you can certainly get the gist of the plot. But AI producing a riveting storyline? That’s a different story altogether.

Let’s go back to the first limitation. AI uses tokens and writes about 500 words at a time. Clearly, that’s not a novel. It’s not really a scene.

At 500 words per turn, AI needs constant supervision and input. This means that you need to plot your novel’s pace, story, locations, and scenes, 500 words at a time. For every scene, you’ll need to know what’s going to happen next in 500 word increments.

You can’t hand over a large outline and expect a 20 page chapter, AI can’t write that much at one time. You’ll be luck to get 1000 words from that outline, or equally, the AI will supply cut it off mid sentence. At best you will have to keep asking it to continue from where it left off. If it remembers what it just wrote for you.

To get decent results, you need to guide the narrative and have a clear direction for what happens on every other page of your novel. You need a prompt to produce what’s going to happen every 500-800 words. You will write as much, if not more, giving direction to AI to get the results you want.

AI is quite good at writing descriptive text, and it’s even better at writing short stories to entertain your kids. I’ve played with that and it’s a lot of fun. But a 1-page kids story is a far cry from a novel.

I tried to get AI to produce a multi-page chapter as an experiment, and it was quite labor-intensive. Getting 20 pages of coherent and consistent text from AI is no small feat.

Without constantly guiding the narrative, the AI became repetitive, disjointed, and rambling. It would introduce elements that made no sense and would end others abruptly. The scene location would abruptly change from place to place with no reasoning. And in 99% of the responses, the AI would write an intro and concluding paragraph I had to throw away. The story is continuing I don’t need those every time. The always seems to conclude with, “And so, “

For my experiment, I set my narrative in a fictional medieval RPG-style setting. The AI gave me some decent character names, provided me with a fun backstory based on certain traits, and gave me some good character descriptions, albeit a little bit cliché. It also provided useful descriptions of the buildings for a town and came up with some interesting item names, including a grimoire. It even made up a backstory for the information the grimoire contained. It had plenty of use and provided a ton of text to use as reference, rather than story. However, it provided those useful details 500 words at a time.

I never did make it to 20 pages, it kept diverting and wrapping up the story early.

From that exercise, AI is much better for writing and creating reference material. It can help you answer questions like, “What does this character look like? What are they wearing? What is their motivation? What does this building look like from the outside? What are people doing inside this building? Give me an example of people having a conversation about…” AI handles those kinds of tasks pretty well. You’ll still have to rewrite a lot of it, but it’s good starting material.

You could also get fancy and feed some of that detail into an AI image generator to create a visual guide, which is also pretty cool.

There are a dozen different methods to writing a novel. Some people outline, some write linearly, some write off the top of their heads, others do bits and pieces here and there. That doesn’t work for AI. You will need to plot, plan, and provide all the details ahead of time. You and your novel need to have structure or you’ll get a rambling, incoherent mess.

So, can AI write a full-length novel? It’s certainly possible, but you need to invest a lot of work, planning, guidance, resubmitting the prompt, and providing as much detail as possible. AI won’t give you a novel based on a synopsis. You’ll need to put in as much effort to get the AI to write a novel as writing the novel yourself.

Still, it can be fun.

AI can be a helpful tool for certain aspects of novel writing. It’s good for reference material, trying out ideas, getting a sense of space and place, and helping to immerse yourself in the world you’re creating. However, it’s not a lazy afternoon to throw a prompt together, get AI to write 50k words, publish that novel on Amazon and make $1000 a week.

If someone got a 50,000 word novel from a 200 word writing prompt without any other guidance and it’s not a jumble of random scenes from other novels, I’d love to see it! Or at least know what you used.

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