I recently watched this youtube video about how to use seven short prompts to have AI write a novel for you. It bothered me, because I feel that if you are going to do that then you need to tell people the book they are buying was really written by AI, but also because I can see these books as direct competition for the novels of authors who actually do the work of writing their books. Authors like me. If you are using AI to write the novel, not research it or proof it, but actually write it for you — then you are not the author of that novel, you are a Story Prompter. That’s not the same thing. And as I thought about this more, a horrifying thought about AI novels occurred to me.
Currently, AI writing is marketed to writers or would-be writers. I think it will shortly be structured and marketed to readers — a much larger and more lucrative market. As of today, it takes seven prompts to get ChatGPT or a similar AI model like Sudowrite to write the first 1000 words of the first chapter of a novel — and you only need to repeat the last two prompts to get it to write the whole novel. You’ll need to work on the resulting text to massage it and make it feel less like it was generated by an algorithm, but the bulk of the work will be done for you in hours or days rather than weeks or months.
But within a year or two (maybe sooner), I don’t see why a company (let’s call it StoryTime!) couldn’t market a special AI as providing custom stories — you give it a few words for what you are looking for and it gives you a whole novel to read — and you can read as many novels as you like for $10-15 a month. And your stories become part of the catalogue that others can read — and you get points when they do because you are a Story Prompter — and those points can be used to buy ebooks and print books and other things — or if you story prompt enough, and your stories get read enough, you can use the points to get paid as little. [This site already does something similar for nonfiction books].
So, you would say “I want to read an alien invasion story like War of the Worlds but set in the 1980s in Brazil” and it gives you 5 story options, and you say, “I like option four but make the protagonist a woman and include a love triangle and the aliens should be insectoid.”
And the AI writes the novel in a few minutes —or it writes it chapter by chapter and you ask for adjustments as you go along —and it can rewrite older chapters to match the current direction of new chapters, so the story makes sense to other readers.
I am trying to think of a reason why this won’t be technically possible in a few years, (or sooner), or why it would not be a viable business model. I can’t think of any. As long as the prose and the writing are baseline competent, I doubt many readers will care.
It will create a dual ecology of novels — handmade, human-fashioned stories written by authors vs AI stories prompted by readers.
People who are now thinking about making a career from Story Prompting AI to make novels may want to reconsider that path. It is probably a narrow window of time where that will be financially viable — especially considering that currently, any work created by AI can’t be copyrighted — because a human needs to do the writing or making of art for it to be eligible for copyright. Even if you are providing prompts to an AI your prompts are like a recipe, and recipes are not eligible for copyright. If you were providing those prompts to a human, and under a work for hire contract that human passed the copyright to their work over to you in return for payment, then you could copyright that work.
So even my hypothetical company, StoryTime!, would not be able to copyright the work its AI created — which would probably necessitate it being a closed system where you could only read the books on the StoryTime! app. There could be bootlegs of the content, but the selling point is the personalization and customizable content, so it would probably be small and insignificant. You might even see a competitor company, some nonprofit AI organization doing the same thing as StoryTime! but for free. Maybe it would be called Gutenberg’s Perpetual Press.
Now, even though this idea has occurred to me, and I have given it some passing thought, I really have no interest in it, either as an artist or a reader. The reason I like to read fiction is not only to experience and new world filled with interesting characters whose lives are impacted by a grand story — I also want to experience that through the viewpoint and predilections of an author — of an actual human being. I want to see the world the way this other person does for a little while and experience this story they spent weeks, or months, or years, working on from their unique perspective. When I am reading someone’s story, I am sharing not just the plot, events, and characters with them, but a part of their True Self — their Soul, if you prefer that word.
That’s what I am striving for as an author and hoping for as a reader. It does not matter if I love the story or hate it, whether the writing is beautiful or clunky, I am sharing in that author’s experience of life, and that is a special kind of communion, one that is not possible with AI created art because AI engines are not people, and have no interior worldview that will inform what stories they tell and how they tell them.
Of course — if an AI engine ever attains what we would think of as consciousness, that would change that equation — along with much else in the world.
BTW — you are free to steal this idea and turn it into a business. You could even use it as the basis of seven prompts to create your own AI written story about AI written stories in the near future. I’ll keep working on writing my next novel. If fact, by the time I’m done, I will probably need a notice on it that that says something like: “This novel is handcrafted by a human. No AI was used at any stage of its creation.” I’m not sure if that is dystopian or just pragmatic. I hope the later.
(Image: generated with Adobe Firefly)