Can Artificial Intelligence Write Stories for us – Good Ones?
Can Artificial Intelligence Write Stories for us – Good Ones?
By: Rayne Hall
Artificial Intelligence (AI) computer programmes can create amazing works of visual art. Can they write great novels and short stories, too? The makers of AI writing apps claim that they can. I wanted to test this myself, so I subscribed to several AI apps.
AI apps are mostly used to write promo texts – sales emails, social media posts and such. But many have a ‘fiction’ or ‘creative story’ function. You enter a brief description of your idea, and the app produces a creative plot and turns it into a story. It sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? While I would never delegate my creative process to a machine, I wondered if an AI app could become a ‘collaborator’. I tried using AI it turn my ideas into first drafts, and to polish my rough drafts into sparkling manuscripts.
Did it work? The short answer: ‘No.’
Here’s the more detailed answer:
Five Serious Flaws
- When I described my idea, most apps didn’t come up with plots. They just padded out my idea-paragraph with additional words and sentences.
- A few came up with plots – daft ones, not stories worth reading. Although some generated promising beginnings, they couldn’t sustain a plot. The middles lacked power and the endings were always lame. The contained no climax, and they didn’t answer the story question posed in the beginning. Many were the dreaded ‘deus-ex-machina’ endings, others were simply implausible. Not a single ending was memorable and satisfying.
- The language was simplistic, sometimes infantile – the kind of writing you get when a ten-year-old writes a story.
- The writing style was appalling, containing all the flaws of beginner writers’ early efforts: clichéd phrases, tautologies, passive voice, lots of content-less words like very/really/began to/started to/could/that/completely, many adverbs and all the other weaknesses real writers overcome as they master their craft. As an anthology editor, I wouldn’t read those stories beyond the first couple of paragraphs before hitting ‘Reject’.
- To my surprise, some apps hadn’t even mastered basic English syntax, and some sentences were grammatically nonsensical.
Example of Bad AI Writing
As an example, I’ll give you this final sentence of an AI-generated short story: “In the end, the demons were finally defeated.”
It’s not exactly a thrilling ending to a story, is it? The experienced fiction writers among you will immediately see what’s wrong with it (a lot), but I’ll spell it out:
To give the reader an exciting experience, the battle against the demons would need to be fleshed out as a climactic scene, not summed up in one sentence.
The writing style of this sentence is as poor as the content. A skilled writer would use either ‘in the end’ or ‘finally’, not both. Moreover, the sentence is in Passive Voice, and a skilled author would know to avoid this fiction thrill-killer.
Will AI Writing Apps Learn to Write Real Fiction?
Although I hadn’t expected great literature, I had assumed AI to be capable of producing a decent simple story. The overall low quality output was disappointing.
Many ‘formulas’ and ‘guides’ exist for crafting good fiction plots – but AI obviously hasn’t been able to absorb them. Perhaps this is understandable: plotting a strong story requires true creative thought, not just imitative processing.
What astonishes me is that the AI apps haven’t even acquired stylistic mastery. Surely they could be programmed to recognise and avoid cliched phrases, tautologies, overused words? Clearly, their programmers didn’t bother with this.
I suspect the producers did not involve real authors and skilled editors who would understand what makes good writing and a good story.
Instead of consulting professionals (and paying them for their work), they probably scraped the fiction available for free on the internet to absorb patterns. Frankly, most of the free writing on the internet isn’t very good. By scraping platforms like WattPad, where novice writers post their story attempts, the AI apps acquired the patterns used by novice writers.
The least awful app is Rytr. It’s far from good at fiction writing, but it has at least potential. During my experiment, it produced well-written prose and even came up with creative ideas. Some opening scenarios were so good that my pulse beat faster with excited hope. Unfortunately, the intriguing scenarios didn’t lead to actual plots, and the endings felt artificial and unsatisfactory.
Perhaps in a few years, the AI apps will grow up. Maybe their makers will involve real authors who understand the craft of fiction writing and train the AI programmes in their techniques. But for now… nope.
Artificial Intelligence can paint great pictures – but it cannot write great stories yet.
What are your thoughts and feelings about Artificial Intelligence writing apps? Will they eventually help writers, or replace them? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
- About the Author
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Rayne lives in Bulgaria where she has created an eco-project for organic gardening. She has adopted several rescued pets and trains cats. Yes, cats can be trained – if they want.
She is the author of over seventy books, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Her books have been published by several publishers in several countries, and translated into several languages. A trained publishing manager with more than thirty years’ experience in the industry, she also publishes her own books and champions indie-publishing for authors.
She edits and publishes short story anthologies, mostly in the Horror, Gothic and Fantasy genres. Her bestselling Writer’s Craft series (the ‘blue guides’) teaches writers advanced and professional skills, including Writing Vivid Plots, Writing Vivid Dialogue, Writing Deep Point of View, Writing and Publishing Short Stories, Writing Dark Stories, Writing Vivid Emotions, Writing Gothic Fiction, Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes.
Thanks for featuring my article. I wonder what other writers think (and how they feel) about AI.
I think it would take a story input to create a better story output – a machine mind, no matter how many words go in, can’t create a beating heart in a story or in a reader.
It takes someone, a living being, to understand how to use words to create that emotional response, even if the words aren’t directly correlative to the emotion implied.
Maybe that’s it – machines can’t imply, or feel, or snark; there is no subtext to machine text. Not even for planning purposes.
Yes, I can see that as a possibility for future development, that AI writers stories based on the plots with put in. Potentially, this can lead to powerful stories – but only if the plots wie put in are powerful. And frankly, most plots created by human writers aren’t exactly powerful either. 🙂
I guess it’s good AI isn’t caught up with fiction writing as it is with drawing. The artists are dreading AI’s rise and I can’t blame them. One thing for sure though, like one of the comments said, a machine will never be able to produce a story as a human can, and that brings me peace.
I wish I could share yuor belief that AI will n ever be able to produce a story as a human can. I think that eventually it will. Just not yet.
Agree. For brainstorming AI can be fun, but creating art, literature…no.
Have you seen the fantastic paintings created by AI? Some of them have won competitions and were awarded art prizes before it was realised that they were AI-generated. So AI definitely can create Art… and I expect that one day it can create literature, too.
At the heart of it, there’s a great deal of difference between ‘absorbing patterns,’ repeating them, and creating.
True. A question to think about: are human writers necessarily better? Many of them are merely absorbing patterns and repeating them.
Thank you for proving that artificial intelligence lacks the emotional intelligence and skill to write a story good enough for prospective readers.
AI may be able to write emotionally powerful stories before long. It can already create emotionally powerful paintings. So while I found that AI cann’t write great stories yet, I expect this will change fast.
What humans do differently than AI does, I think, is that they can play around with any aspect of writing even if they follow some patterns. The structure, the plot, the wording, the character arcs – so many things to experiment with, so many things no pattern could hold. That’s why absorbing patterns, as you stated, cannot be enough. I believe in the near future, AI will be able to write fine stories, but they will still lack something, some kind of soul maybe, because AI doesn’t have the ability to create nuances which make all the difference. Technology is unpredictable and incredible though, so who knows?
From a writer’s perspective, I can see why the results might appear childish or primitive, but from a technological point of view, these are actually pretty good results. It is the natural path of A.I. to initially go for large acquisitions of data, try to output and then be recalibrated. This is how scientific experimentation works.
Keep in mind, people have been writing and telling stories for thousands of years, this is simply a baby opening it’s eyes.
Will A.I. eventually replace people? Only time will tell.
Instead of having a fear of being replaced, why not be excited at the prospect of having a very powerful collaborator?
As the name suggests, “Artificial” Intelligence will never be able to produce works of art and literature as beautiful as those created by humans, but it can perform many tasks that can make people’s lives easier.
In the near future, it is highly possible that AI will get better at writing a coherent story or painting a beautiful picture but what I wonder is whether we are going to be inclined to read a novel written by AI. Personally, I never read books just for the sake of hearing an interesting story. As a reader, I would like to form an invisible bond with the writer. On purpose or not, the writer reflects his/her past, emotions, ideas, and the whole inner world in the work he/she creates. On the other hand, AI is a machine with no feelings (at least yet) and experience to prompt it to produce art. I am not sure if I will enjoy literature and art more without the curiosity to learn how that piece of work came into being and what inspired the producer to come up with that.
This is such an interesting take to look at. As we can see nowadays, technology seems to improve so much to the point that it slowly imitate humans (and eventually replacing them) But for me, when it comes to writing stories, you can’t entirely rely on artificial intelligence. Yes, AI can help with brainstorming and other technicalities, but when it comes to the depth and the core essence of writing which is the heart, no one can beat humans. I personally am curious as to how this facet of technology will progress on in the coming years to come.