Since its release in November 2022, ChatGPT has caused many people to wonder about how much generative AI will affect the careers of artists—especially writers.
However, as Medium points out, “AI calculates the probability of words appearing next to each other. It does not know what the words mean. It’s not writing, it’s doing math.”
There are several other reasons that ChatGPT won’t be destroying the literary scene anytime soon, but instead, let’s talk about how it can be used to the advantage of creative writers.
For many years now, writers have used various methods to combat writer’s block. One of those methods is using a writing prompt to jumpstart an idea. Tumblr, Reddit, and other websites have long been some of the most obvious sources for writing prompts, but what if we began to turn to ChatGPT instead?
What’s great about ChatGPT is that you can ask it to use certain words or a specific tone. For example, I asked the chatbot to do the following: “Give me a humorous writing prompt that uses the word raven.”
Its response (all ChatGPT responses were generated by GPT-3.5, after the August 3 update): "Write a short comedy piece about a mischievous raven who decides to become a wingman for a shy human at a park, offering hilarious dating advice and causing unintentional chaos in the process."
But if I don’t like a certain aspect of the writing prompt—like the setting—I can request the following: “Give me a different setting for the writing prompt.”
Its response: "Craft a humorous story about a raven who stumbles upon a wizard's spell book and accidentally casts a spell that gives it the ability to speak like a Shakespearean actor. Describe the raven's comical interactions with other animals in the forest as it tries to maintain its newfound eloquence while dealing with the everyday challenges of forest life."
Sounds like a fun idea. But we can take it further; we can ask ChatGPT to get even more specific: “Give me a writing prompt about a raven in which I have to use two Spanish words, one computer term, and a certain beginning word.”
ChatGPT’s answer: "Embark on a tale of intrigue with a raven as the protagonist. Begin with the word 'Sombrío.' Incorporate the Spanish words 'misterio' and 'alas,' along with the computer term 'firewall' into the narrative. Explore how the raven's somber demeanor conceals a realm of mystery that unravels beyond the confines of its ebony wings and the protective firewall of its forest home."
It’s fun to read ChatGPT’s elaborate prompts, but let’s say that I don’t know what the Spanish word ‘alas’ means. I type the following: “What does alas mean?”
This is where the language model falters in its reliability: “"Alas" is an English word that is often used to express sadness, regret, or disappointment. It's an old-fashioned way of saying "unfortunately" or "sadly." For example, "Alas, the cake I baked turned out burnt." In older literature, "alas" was more commonly used to convey a sense of sorrow or pity.”
The thing about ChatGPT is that you have to be specific. For example: “What does alas mean in the prompt?”
ChatGPT: “In the prompt, the word "alas" is not used as the expression of sadness or regret that I mentioned earlier. Instead, it is used as a Spanish word. In Spanish, "alas" means "wings." The prompt asks you to incorporate this Spanish word into the narrative, along with the other specified elements.”
ChatGPT isn’t a writer. It’s a tool that can come up with writing prompts. It can provide ideas for character names. It can help writers understand the difference between punctuation marks.
One thing it can’t do? It can’t take creativity away from us.
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