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Chat GPT is a Terrible Writer, But Could be a Great Assistant.

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

And anyone using it to create novels monthly on Kindle should be ashamed of themselves for charging readers for such poor quality fiction.

It's the talk of the town right now, and everyone is panicking at what effects Chat GPT might have on all sorts of industries and education. For, if people can cheat their exams or cheat their readers by using an AI, doesn't this mean the end of intelligence and life as we know it? Yes, the AI has been proven to pass certain high-level exams, which is concerning educators, and it even got one chap out of a parking penalty, but in relation to publishing fiction, Chat GPT is a terrible writer.

I've put the AI through several tests so far, and the results are pretty grim. To the inexperienced writer, it might seem that Chat GPT writes competent fiction. The grammar is correct, smooth, and consistent - better than many pieces we receive in slush month-to-month. The storytelling does feel like it contains a beginning, a middle and an end. But to the trained eye, Chat GPT is a long way from being professional-standard fiction. Or even beyond mediocre. It's definitely a long way from writing anything with any true depth or true human experience. How could a robot ever inject those little idiosyncrasies only real-life human experiences can create?

In attempting to write a decent scene or story with this AI, I found that it often forgot elements of criteria I had requested once things departed from the easy-and-straightforward zone. If it followed the criteria, it failed plagiarism checks. When asked to rewrite the same text but without the plagiarism, it overlooked an element of the criteria. When asked to correct, it overlooked another element of the criteria. Or it was back to plagiarism. It took a long time to get 500 words adhering to all the criteria and pass plagiarism checks. Can you imagine doing that for a 100k word novel? And still the results were lacklustre in so many ways I cannot begin to tell you.

We discussed it at the mag with some examples of stories we'd had the AI write and we were all agreed: yes, a better standard of grammar and prose than we often see in the submissions queue, but they still wouldn't get a pass into winnowing because the stories had no real heart to them. In the few personal tests I carried out, I found that, when the AI wrote better quality prose, it failed plagiarism checks.

Thing is, for anyone panicking about how - apparently - Kindle authors are ploughing out one book a month to hungry fans, if those authors do not have the knowledge of what makes a story truly sizzle, no amount of fiddling with the AI will do it for them. Or, it would take them so long, they might as well write the book themselves. If readers are leaving good reviews for this banal level of writing, people need a serious word with themselves. Then again, we have Fifty Shades of Grey as a published outlier, so there's no accounting for taste or judgement. I did come across an FB advert where a woman is shamelessly selling the idea of how to make a tidy income selling books she didn't write, so I'm assuming she's on CGPT. Thing is, both the idea and generating bland books are things anyone can access for free on the internet, so makes her whole model double shameful.

For professional-level authors, this is not a threat. Unfortunately, for professional-level indies and litmags, it might be. It's already hard enough for the decent indy authors to get their names out there and raised above the current tidal wave of independent content. If those looking for a quick buck but no quality intend to further flood the market with this flotsam, indies could find themselves drowning without a lifeboat in sight. That could transfer the marketing of a book to a higher priority than actually writing the book, which is equally disturbing.

Chat GPT could also spell the end of litmags - the all important fertile bed where upcoming talent is often nurtured and gets to experiment on which materials work commercially and which don't. These venues are most often cash strapped and rely on the goodwill of experienced editors and readers volunteering their free time to keep the ship afloat. Already, there are more submissions flooding in than these small presses can cope with, so if there is an onslaught of Chat GPT on the horizon, these venues could fold. Clarkesworld magazine closed down their submissions this month in response to this problem, and we've already had a slew of recognisable Chat GPT submissions that have pushed us to adjust our submissions guidelines. Problem is, every CGPT sub in our queue takes away a place for another writer's work. We have a monthly cap that Submittable imposes upon reach of that cap, so if we get 100 CGPT subs in a month, that's 100 genuine stories we can't even get a look at.

"How can you tell what's an AI story" I hear you cry?

We’re editors. We can sniff out the tells as easily as sniffing the enticing wafts of a freshly baked fruit pie. Do you think we were born yesterday? In solidarity with Mr Clarke, I am not going to verse potential scammers on how to circumnavigate those tells.

But technology is supposed to improve our lives, right? (Hey- you! Stop sniggering in the back!)

Well, there is some good news on that front, because Chat GPT can be used as a useful tool for a fiction writer. Mostly, research. All those hours where we pore over books or websites reading up on one tiny little thing, only to read pages and pages just for the single nugget we hoped to find? Finished.

Case in point: I am writing a long scene that takes place in Venice. It's complex, requires setting up a big action scene involving three POVs, high tensity, emotionally wrought, lots of choreography for the fight scene, plus other intricacies. I have to get the setting details right. So, I asked Chat GPT about the architecture of the setting where my scene revolves around and got answers in seconds. No rabbit holes. No time sucks. The answers were there immediately.

I can also double check my facts in an instance by asking questions and asking the bot to provide references. No need for placeholder details I will come back to so that I don't interrupt my writing flow. That's hugely useful.

Other potentially useful tasks this AI might be able to help with: writing query and cover letters; finding open calls for submissions; and I could probably ask it to write my blog posts, but I suspect they would be pretty lacklustre, without originality and lacking in my own subjectivity.

In terms of cover letters, Chat GPT did an okay job. A bit long-winded in the first version, very generic and somewhat over-enthusiastic. But I only gave it a basic criteria. If I wanted it to talk about any details of the story or my personal bio, it means I would have to input those myself. By the time I've done that, I might as well write my own letter.

When asked to search British SFF short fiction markets, it produced a small list of familiar names, but it was within seconds, including links. When I asked it to search open calls for submissions, it pulled up short, telling me it wasn't a search engine. But I'll bet Google is wetting the bed right now.

One thing I can see Chat GPT doing is nullifying NaNoWriMo. We all know the purpose of that marathon exercise is to get the general idea down and then rework it at a slower pace and with more consideration afterwards. With Chat GPT, you could ask it to write 50k word immediately, take that draft and significantly rewrite it and make it better. As I said previously, if you don't already understand the mechanics of writing, you'll only get so far in improving a weak AI generated story, The idiom It's not possible to polish a turd, especially not with another turd comes to mind (or some such thing, or maybe I just made that one up). Did I just call you a turd? Only if you intend to use CGPT to cheat your readers and publishers out of their money.

It might be possible to have it write one scene or chapter periodically to your chosen criteria, edit it, then feed back the entire contents of the story so far into the AI to write the next chapter, but I still think that sounds like a lot of hassle with tweaking, reading it back, checking all the threads string together. Maybe I'll give it a whirl in November and see how that pans out just for the hell of it. There again, if I feed my own writing into CGPT, will it then regurgitate my work to another user? I'm unclear on how much it retains of the input data and whether that data is added to its own reference points. There's also the question of whether I would retain copyright.

Overall, don't be thinking that CGPT is going to be an easy cheat in book or story writing. Oh, there might be an initial period where the unsuspecting reader is unaware of AI generated stories, but once they find out, they will be up in arms that they spent their hard earned money on something they could just go and create themselves for free on their computer and still get the same level of banal enjoyment. Bad reviews should bury these 'novels' under the bottom of the Kindle list (and, hopefully, Amazon will create some kind of policy to deter this kind of behaviour from its platform). Maybe CGPT needs a way to 'mark' anything copy-pasted from the bot, a bit like invisible ink on bank notes. Not sure if that would be feasible.

In all my tests so far, I did find it impossible not to talk to the AI like a real human being, saying please and thank you and praising it when it did a good job. Maybe that's the years of social media conversations conditioning me to think there is a human behind the text. Still, if the robots are going to take over, I figured it's probably best to start off on the right footing, eh? Have you had any experiences with CGPT or other writing AIs? Please share!

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