Writing a novel with ChatGPT is exhausting. I should know, for I just spent the last few months doing so. But that’s for another blog post. Today, I want to talk about how people are using ChatGPT the wrong way. If you ask ChatGPT to write you a novel, it will likely say something along these lines: “As an AI language tool, I do not have the capability to write a novel, but I can assist you in writing one.” While there are ways to circumnavigate this, the truth is, it can’t write a novel. At least, not a very good one. This is because, like any computer program, it is a problem-solving machine. It is logical, not creative. So how should you use ChatGPT in your writing? Ask it to solve writing problems.
The Boring Side of Writing
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to stay within the boundaries of my outlines. I create plot holes and change the color of a character’s eyes or even their name. And while I have a gut feeling about how a story should play out, I struggle with story structure. ChatGPT cannot come up with good ideas, but it is your organizing friend.
For example, it can help you create a beautiful outline for your novel based on any story structure known to man. Such as Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat, or Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. It can help you create a character bible. Figure out the schematics of your story world. It can even find possible plot holes. While you should not be using ChatGPT to create real prose for your novel, you should be using it to type out those boring details about your story world. Few writers want to punch out detailed documents to help them keep their writing on track, but with ChatGPT, you can have all of these documents by the end of one day with just a few simple prompts.
For example, my AI-generated novel takes place in a steampunk world, where mass transportation is a gigantic pneumatic tubes system not unlike the subway. While I tried to describe it, I couldn’t think of the right terminology. This is where ChatGPT really shines. After just a few prompts, it gave me a detailed explanation of how such a device could transport people from one part of town to another—just like your money at an ATM.
I asked it to apply the steampunk world to baseball, and it gave me a fictional history of how steam-powered machines became incorporated into the sport. This gives the novel one of my favorite moments, where I have something entirely unique. This is the real value of ChatGPT. Not because it is super clever. After all, I was the one who thought of a steampunk version of baseball. But if you give it something creative, and ask how that would work practically, it solves the problem. I can see it helping you find that perfect escape route for a character you’ve written into a corner.
But beware. Sometimes it makes stuff up that is absurd. For example, when I tried to get it to write an outline for a historical thriller, I didn’t catch that at one point, it gave a wheelchair-bound character, the ability to fly. I was reading the outline, when this caught my eye “Tyler is forced to leave Illinois when German agents show up at Rufus’s town and try to capture or kill him. He escapes with his father and Mary Ann in his wheelchair suitcase, which turns out to have wings and can fly like an airplane.”
Say what?! I was trying to write a grounded, gritty murder mystery that takes place on the cusp of WWI in America, and all of a sudden, we have a flying wheelchair. This leads me to my final point: it’s not a shortcut. Not yet. While I get the allure of using new technology to make the writing life easier, the technology is just not there yet.
Spellcheck and Grammarly are integral tools for any writer, but the bottom line is, ChatGPT is too dumb right now. Because it is conversational, there are countless ways for misunderstandings to occur. While grammar and spell check have pretty hard and fast rules, ChatGPT struggles to understand the basics of writing coherent and engaging material. This is good news. Because ChatGPT is not going to replace writers. But it can become another useful tool for writers. Assuming you know how to talk to it.
Here’s a fun challenge. Tell ChatGPT to write you a haiku about baseball, WWI, or pneumatic tubes, and post the poem in the comments below!
Kyle Morgan is a fulltime college student at Grand Canyon University, where he is majoring in Professional Writing for New Media. The youngest of three boys, Kyle is the final bird in his parent’s nest in the ever-growing state of Idaho. On his blog Cranial Flatulence – A comedy blog. (wordpress.com), he recounts his hilarious, and often embarrassing adventures of being a homeschool fundamentalist in the Pacific Northwest. You can check out his Facebook page or follow him on Instagram.