Like many others, I’ve experimented and tried out AI, the most common of which is Chat-GPT. There are a lot of AI tools that work in a similar fashion to this, many of which are aimed at creating original works, including fiction much like what we write on this website. I was interested in trying out a tool like this and I decided to subscribe to NovelAI. I subscribed for a month about two months ago, and resubscribed recently after seeing they implemented their own in-house token generator.
A brief but poor synopsis of the tech, for those who don’t know: Generative AI, like Chat-GPT and NovelAI, work from a Large Language Model (LLM) to basically take vast amounts of information, break it down into recognizable parts, to then be able to reproduce similar works based on prompts or randomly generated content. Essentially it knows what a sentence should look like (or an image or a video, for other applications) and is able to assemble letters to make a sentence. NovelAI is designed for writing, specifically continuing a story that you’ve started, so you write a few sentences, and when you hit “Send”, it fills in a few lines of how it thinks the story could go, based on what you wrote. There are others where you could say “Write a two page story about a white whale,” but NovelAI is not that. There are plenty of resources if you want to read more on it, but that’s the gist. Here’s my take on it after using it for over a month now:
It’s surprisingly coherent
It was very rare that it wrote anything that made no sense at all. It knows how to recognize names and carry them through the story, it will “remember” details about a character like if they had a gun or a basic description of them. The nature of it is that it’s trying to advance the story, so depending on your settings, it may go off in a completely random direction, but that’s somewhat by design. Depending on how free you are with letting it fill in details, it can act as a pretty good writing partner. It doesn’t correct what you’ve written, you’ll want other services for that, but if you can write ok, it’ll make a good effort to match your style and tone.
I felt more free to explore topics I normally wouldn’t
I don’t normally write a story unless I have a clear vision of the concept, and usually an ending in mind. But with NovelAI, I felt free to just have a really basic idea and start writing, knowing that NovelAI would fill in details. I’m pretty controlled about how I want a narrative to go, so it wasn’t often I’d just go with major changes the AI suggested (it’s easy to “Retry” when you don’t like what it’s written, as well as edit out individual words or sentences), but it did allow me to offload some of the heavy lifting that sometimes comes with writing. NovelAI has no problem with sex scenes, which I sometimes struggle with, so if I set up that two guys are going to fuck, it can do a pretty good job filling in the details of that as I type with one hand. I felt much more able to explore half-baked topics and genres I normally wouldn’t. I even wrote a couple stories that included women just to expand my horizons and was actually relatively pleased with the result. When using it as a tool in this way, it was good.
On the other hand…
AI has very little ability to plan
This is the biggest hurdle AI has to overcome, in my opinion, but the nature of generative AI is that it writes it literally word by word, coming up with the next one after the last one it writes, kind of like tapping the auto fill words at the top of your iPhone keyboard to see what it spits out. It’s a bit smarter than that, but there’s no long term sense that most writers have. NovelAI won’t write something in paragraph one with the intention of paying it off in paragraph 100. It remembers what you write in the form of “tokens”, essentially individual bits of information, like single words or even syllables, that it can recognize and reference when choosing when to output. But this is a one way street. It will refer to what’s been written to decide what to write next, but it never is thinking more than two sentences ahead. You can adjust how much it outputs and how far back it remembers, but it’s no replacement for outlining a full 10,000 word story and then writing it out.
It’s a lot of work if you want a specific result
NovelAI includes a lot of customizability and settings that you can use to improve the output, but in my opinion, the time invested into actually using these far outweighs the payoff. NovelAI has ways that you can provide “context” and “Memory” that it will refer to even though it’s not in the body of the story. You can do things like define a character and provide a description, create a setting, or other things, which the AI can refer to or “remember” when it sees those keywords used in the story. You can also adjust things like “randomness” in case you want it to be more predictable. The settings can get really into the weeds, and most of it went over my head, but even in my well-meaning attempts to put these to good use, I didn’t find a significant difference in the outcome. They have presets and things to make it a bit more accessible, but honestly, you’d probably have to do a lot of research and experimentation, along with a lot of pre-writing, to see any impact, which seems counterintuitive to how this tool is to be used. Maybe someone who understands AI better than me can figure it out, but it felt unexpectedly dense to me, and I generally didn’t bother with any of it.
It struggles with new, abstract concepts
A big part of what we write about here are “new” ways that men fall under other men’s control, usually a new mechanic or some kind of magical or hypnotic effect. I tried to write a couple stories that involved some kind of transition into a himbo, but it’s interpretation of what that is was shaky, and if I tried to define it using the tools, it still seemed to struggle. The trouble is that by virtue of it being an original idea to one extent or another, the AI doesn’t have a source material that it can reflect back into your work. What I found was that I might be trying to lead it to a new idea I thought of that I hadn’t fleshed out, but the choices it made in response would revert to the mean, and it ended up being too much work trying to pull it in a different direction. As a result, most stories I wrote had very thin premises and went straight into the action. Any kind of preamble would just provide opportunities for the AI to deviate, and I’d get impatient with it and just try and move into the action of it all. I imagine it’s a better mindset to not go in with a beginning, middle, and end in mind, but even when I did that, the stories tend to just go nowhere. A character will leave their house, walk this way, go back to their house, “feel worried”, and so on. If you just let the AI write, “things” happen, but nothing with a cohesive narrative flow or any sense of purpose. And if the AI does introduce an exciting new event, it’s either so off the wall that it fundamentally changes the story I’d want to write, or it’s too random to make any logical sense.
So, overall, I’ll let my subscription lapse again, I’ll play with it in the mean time, but ultimately I don’t find it to be terrible useful. I do think AI will continue to improve and we’ll have to reckon with what that means for creators like us, but right now, it’s doing a decent job of imitating us, but little more than that. I don’t see this as a useful tool for creating stories for our suite of sites, and generally avoid any story that includes the #ai-assisted tag. When an AI tool can follow my train of thought as well as I can when I’m writing, and be able to plot out a course for itself rather than make it up as it goes, then I think we’ll see a change. At the moment, it still can’t quite keep up with me.
What do you guys think? Have you used these tools and liked them? Did you have better luck than I did?