Writing a story together with ChatGPT
Just before Christmas 2022, I wrote the science-fiction story “Deep Day” together with ChatGPT.
It’s a story about Oscar, who can relive the same day over and over, similar to the movie Groundhog Day. Even before I saw Groundhog Day, I really liked the concept. In the movie, and other similar stories, it’s about being “trapped in time”. They get trapped by something supernatural. I wanted to tell a variant of the story where we get trapped in time intentionally. That’s why it’s a science-fiction story and not a pure fantasy.
But why would we want that? Because time is endless, but not are own time. Our time on earth is precious. A lot of things can be made endless in people's life. People used to gather food, now it is there in abundance. People used to wait a week to watch their favorite television series. Now they can binge-watch everything. Some people even have endless money. But what isn’t endless, is our time. Time is limited. That makes time the most valuable thing.
But what if we could make time endless? What if you can’t finish your work on the current day, you can do it again on the same day? You need some kind of artificial intelligence where you can live parallel days at the same time, where time gets ‘shaped’. Where an hour is in realtime just a second.
That’s a nice idea to write a story about. But I have my own company, I have two kids and a cat, I do triathlon. Where on earth do I find the time to write this? Maybe in ten years, or after I retire? But wait… can’t I just use AI to write it?
The question is how to write long stories or even books with ChatGPT? It doesn’t for example work to say:
“Hi ChatGPT, write a book about a time machine?”
Perhaps you get a few paragraphs of really generic text. The easiest trick is to do it like this Redditor says:
“Give it a premise by saying “Write the beginning of a novel about [x]” and fill in as much detail as you want. Then have it generate the opening. Then type “continue” to generate what happens next and refresh until you get a result you like. Or gradually steer the story in the direction you want to go by saying “Write [one sentence premise of the next chapter]”. I was able to generate a 10,000 word story in probably around an hour. You can’t get ChatGPT to write an entire book off of nothing, but it can be remarkably creative with just bare-bones prompting.”
This doesn’t give a lot of influence over the output. What I did first was to set up the rough lines of the story. Thus,
“Hi ChatGPT, let’s write a science fiction story that is roughly based on Groundhog Day. The main character is Oscar etc.”
I split up the various chapters and ask for each chapter:
“Write the next chapter. This chapter should be around 500 words. Continue on the previous chapter. Use a logical structure and very colorful descriptions. Add a short chapter name that triggers the user to read it.”
Then I give it a short (4 or 5 points) bullet point list and ask ChatGPT to write the story and fill in the blanks. If not satisfied with the outcome, you can ask it to rewrite it. For example, “Rewrite the previous chapter in the style of Harry Potter” or “Make the story a bit darker”. I didn’t do that, to keep the pace of writing fast enough.
It took around one hour to make, for a story that takes one hour to read. Not bad.
BTW, you can find complete AI books at this Canadian publisher:
So I wrote this science-fiction together with ChatGPT within one hour. I must be honest that the preparation of the story took a bit more time. The reason is that to make it work, the prompts you feed to ChatGPT need to be concise and precise. Though ChatGPT can interpret the meaning of your prompt relatively well, it doesn’t do what you want if you are not providing the right input. You really need to articulate your intent in a conversation. So when Google is much about the right search words, then ChatGPT is about the right prompts, the right questions and correcting answers.
At first this failed. I tried not to be creative myself, but only use internet resources as input and let ChatGPT figure it out himself. I asked Google how to write a good Science-Fiction novel. Based on the answer, I tried to set up the plot, the building world and characters. Then I fed this all at once to ChatGPT. This, however, end up with a short text, that wasn't much of a story. What I then did, is write short chapters in Dutch (my native language) and used Deepl.com (AI translator) to translate it, because ChatGPT is a bit better at English. This was fed to ChatGPT all at once. Another failure.
Second day, another try
Then I left it for a while and looked up what successful prompts were. For example, with help of this website:
GitHub - f/awesome-chatgpt-prompts: This repo includes ChatGPT promt curation to use ChatGPT…
Welcome to the "Awesome ChatGPT Prompts" repository! This is a collection of prompt examples to be used with the…
What to note is that ChatGPT is a conversational AI, thus it works best if you split the input and output into shorter pieces. That’s why I first gave the outline and asked it to write it chapter for chapter. For every chapter, I wrote the first two sentences and then asked ChatGPT to complete it with a range of topics I’ll gave. This worked better.
Unfortunately, I was writing the prompts at intervals of 5 to 10 minutes. This often resulted in the following error:
A lot of time I was waiting for ChatGPT to finish. And not only the quality of the output, but also the stability of ChatGPT itself, had some issues. I received some notifications on network errors, tokens that weren’t in the request, and warnings about possible copyright violations. Unfortunately, all the errors and warnings were filtered when I visited the saved conversation the next day.
What also helped me, to not write the text online, but using this desktop app:
GitHub - lencx/ChatGPT: 🤖 ChatGPT Desktop Application (Mac, Windows and Linux)
ChatGPT Desktop Application Awesome ChatGPT Latest: Other version... brew tap lencx/chatgpt…
In this desktop app I had the prepared conversation all at once. The result was the story “Deep day”. Don’t know who is the real author, myself or ChatGPT? Maybe I am the input author and ChatGPT is the output author? Who knows? Or should I say: What knows?
Within one hour, ChatGPT was able to produce a story of around 7500 words. Would I write it differently and better myself? Sure. Could it be written better by ChatGPT when I gave it better input. Yes, surely. This however would cause a lot of re-asking ChatGPT or rewriting the output myself. At the end, this would cost the same amount of time as writing a book from scratch. I kept everything unmodified and only used the first response.
When you want to do it perfectly, you quickly end up with this result:
Still, the way ChatGPT can produce output is impressive. It’s not perfect though, often you miss some creativity and I would say that the output is too literal. When I learn more how to talk better to AI’s and ChatGPT has its new shiny GPT-4 model, I will sure give it another try to write a better story.
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An in-depth article on working in tandem with AI
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