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A lot of people in the literary industry are concerned that Artificial Intelligence will replace real writers in all realms of writing; but storytelling may be an exception to that, at least for now. In the following article I’ll share my observations from a test done between ChatGPT and a skilled storyteller. Read on to decide whether writers are on the verge of being totally replaced.
Don’t Miss the Story at the End about Trailers and People That Have Just Been Hitched
When I Heard About Chat GPT, I Thought My Chances of Becoming a Writer Were Over
Early last summer, after my mom’s funeral, when I was finally free to start turning my attention fulltime toward becoming a writer, rather than caregiving, I was told about an app called ChatGPT.
*Editor’s note: I fear being judged for using the phrase “finally free” – I was grateful for the opportunity to take care of my mom and spend those precious days with her; but our situation had taken a real toll on me, and there were times I didn’t know if I’d even outlive her.
“A kid” (somebody in his twenties – the fact that I’m calling him that is evidence that maybe I’m officially “old”) told me with great enthusiasm, “You don’t have to write anything anymore! Artificial Intelligence will do it for you! You just tell the app what you want it to say, and it will write it for you!”
I was crest-fallen.
“No need to write now?”
I’d been wanting to be a writer for decades, and now there was no need?
I’d been pecking away at my keyboard for nearly four years on a series of novels about my mom’s hometown – were those now totally obsolete because of this new technology?
I’d had one hindrance and hurdle after another; but I’d kept saying to myself, “This is only for a season, you’ll get your chance to write soon.”
That hope was burst by the news that Chat GPT had volunteered to do my dream for me.
Just after hearing about how AI would replace me as a writer, I was working on my project of converting my cargo trailer into a tiny house, feeling broken-hearted.
In the midst of caregiving for my mom, I’d had my head buried under the sand, not wanting to deal with anymore sadness than I had to, so I hadn’t paid attention to current events.
I hadn’t heard of writers’ strikes, or creative people being afraid that AI would take away their jobs.
Why Chat GPT was Not on My Radar When People Began Fearing it Would Replace Writers
When my mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I’d committed to caring for her, and had set aside work on my novels. The time I would have spent on chapters was replaced by a focus on CaringBridge posts to keep friends and family apprised of her condition.
There was an unexpected gift in this, because I had to step outside of my box to expose my words to a small sliver of the world. In doing so, I learned some valuable lessons in being real, allowing others to see raw spots, dealing with praise, and also the stabbing pain of people who didn’t think I’d said or done things right.
All those things caused me to grow as a writer, and I was glad I’d documented precious time with my mom – but in the back of my mind, there was always a longing to complete the stories I’d set aside for her sake.
Is it Too Late to Try to Become a Writer? Has AI Replaced Authors?
When the time came to get back to typing, I was pretty much told, “You’re too late to become a writer. The computer will do it for you.” But after doing the following research, I don’t believe that is entirely true.
I’d guess it would be like somebody who had worked their whole life to be a whizz at basic math, being told that their skills had been replaced by something called “a calculator” (by the way, if you want to hear how a calculator helped a guy get a wife, I’ll try to share that link here soon).
Just when my heart was near despair about Chat GPT (which at the time I thought was pronounced Chad), a man showed up in his pickup truck, wearing a pair of overalls and offering to help with my trailer. Neither of us knew he’d also help with my hopelessness.
Harliss had been in my mom’s class and was my uncle’s brother-in-law. He had done something heroic for me before . Harliss is also an incredibly good storyteller. His accounts of trying to farm for Ralph Ridenour ought to be recorded into a complete anthology.
In case you don’t know, Ralph Ridenour was a guy who was so intelligent that he spent his last days at the local Carnegie Library trying to disprove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; but lacked the common sense to maintain his farm equipment.
He’d put out fuel-tank fires with clods of dirt; but never replace the filter. For that reason, work in the fields would have to stop every twenty minutes or so, in order to shake out the filter. The fuel-tank fire started in the first place due to a lost fuel cap that was never found and probably never looked for.
By all accounts, Ralph Ridenour seems like someone who would have easily ended up on the pages of a Wendell Berry book, if he’d been born in Port William.
How a Guy in Overalls Helped Me with My Cargo Trailer and Gave Me Hope that Story-Telling Could Continue
Harliss had come to help me move my trailer, since I don’t have a pickup truck for hauling. We were about to hitch the two together, when I said, “Don’t let me forget to raise the stabilizing jacks – I had to put them down, because I’d moved all my stuff to the back and nearly tipped the trailer up on its hind end.”
Harliss paused, hooked his fingers in the straps of his overalls – not his thumbs, because he lost one of those a while back working on his car – and said something like, “You know, you saying that about your stabilizing jacks and the trailer tipping over puts me in mind of a story a friend of mine once told me. I don’t know if I’ve told you about that one or not.”
The pause was welcome. I love Harliss’ stories, and whether he had told me that one or not didn’t matter to me. I’d be glad to hear total repeats.
I stood still to listen, and Harliss’ story went something like this:
“I had this friend who was at a campsite one time, and everybody in the place had gathered around the fire to enjoy the evening, when one of those pop-up campers pulled into the campground and parked. It had a sign on the back of it that said, ‘Newlyweds – Just Married’.”
“Well, the people were just sitting by the fire enjoying the evening, and some time went by, when all of a sudden, that whole pop-up camper with the newlyweds tipped up onto one end – and the man and his wife, who had been inside, came rolling out of the window that was on the ground – both totally naked.”
Talk about Honey-Mooners!
“Well, of course, everybody looked over to see what had happened, and then saw that couple scramble up as quick as they could. They rushed around to the side of their camper, so they could get back in through the door; but they’d locked that from the inside, so they were both out there locked out in front of everybody with no clothes!”
Harliss had me laughing, and he gave a mild chuckle at the remembrance of hearing the tale.
“Well then, the fella had to crawl inside from the end that was on the ground to go unlock the door and crawl up into the high end, while the woman helped try to hold down the side that was up in the air to get it back on its wheels.”
“And there was everybody else, just sittin’ around the campfire watchin’ it happen.”
“Well, as you can imagine, the couple didn’t stay. They must of got their clothes back on, packed up, and drove out of there. I don’t know where they camped that night; but I imagine they were mighty embarrassed.”
By this point, I was doubled over, and Harliss was grinning, wiping a tear from his eye at the idea of how hilarious that must have been.
I bet that story got shared around many a campfire for years to come.
I was so glad he’d taken the time to tell me about that mishap. Laughter is good medicine, and Harliss’ story definitely had a medicinal effect on my broken-hearted disappointment about the world supposedly no longer needing story-tellers.
Once again, he’d saved the day, and he’d also restored my belief that human beings should still be telling stories.
Can Chat GPT Generate a Story that Competes with a Real-Life Story-Teller?
When I got back to my hotel room later that day (I was still technically homeless, since I hadn’t completed my cargo trailer, or found a place to stay long-term), I started wondering what kind of story Chat GPT could generate compared to Harliss.
I did a little experiment by asking the artificial intelligence app to tell me a story based on the same subject material that Harliss had to work with.
My directions to Chat GPT were:
“Write a story about two newlyweds falling out of a pop up camper at a campsite”
Chat GPT was quick to accommodate my request and said:
Hi there! Sure, I can definitely write a story about that.
Once upon a time, there were two newlyweds who decided to go on a camping trip for their honeymoon. They rented a pop up camper and set up camp at a beautiful site in the woods.
On the first night, they were snuggled up in their cozy camper, enjoying the sounds of nature outside. Suddenly, they heard a loud noise and felt a jolt. The next thing they knew, they were tumbling out of the camper and onto the ground.
Confused and disoriented, they looked around and realized that the camper had collapsed. Apparently, a strong gust of wind had knocked it over.
Thankfully, the newlyweds were not hurt, but they were definitely shaken up. They spent the rest of the night huddled together under the stars, grateful to be alive and in each other’s arms.
The next morning, they packed up their things and headed home, vowing to never forget their wild and unexpected honeymoon adventure.
I hope you enjoyed the story! Let me know if you have any other requests.
Can Chat GPT Generate a Detailed Story Worth Reading
It was astonishing the amount of details Chat GPT could generate; but the lack of depth or dilemma in the story left a great deal to be desired. The artificial intelligence story sounded a little more like a bedtime story made up by an exhausted parent desperate for their kid to go to sleep than something constructed by a skilled writer.
And like any kid, who isn’t quite satisfied, I had questions:
Why didn’t they notice the gust of wind, if they were enjoying the sounds of nature?
That didn’t make sense. I thought all they’d heard was a noise and a jolt.
Why didn’t they go back into the camper?
Was it broken?
How did they pack it up, if it was damaged?
Did they get in trouble with the rental company?
I don’t mean to be harsh; but I thought Chat GPT’s story was pretty boring, especially when compared to the one Harliss told.
Will We Lose Real Drama with Artificial Intelligence Writing Our Stories?
AI’s generated story seemed more like it followed a recipe than something from real life. It left me with the same feeling I get from watching a Hallmark film, which I don’t do very often. The plot was predictable and lacked true emotion.
Yearning and dilemma are key elements in a tale worth telling, and Chat GPT didn’t deliver.
It’s easy to sense the humiliation in Harliss’ story about the couple who came rolling out onto the ground – and even the humored awkwardness of the onlookers gathered around the campfire, having no idea they’d see any kind of show besides fireflies and melting marshmallows.
Would you rather read a story about the couple who had just gotten hitched, huddled together watching the stars – or the one about the newlyweds accidentally starring in the story of “the two moons”?
I think your answer will tell you whether artificial intelligence is totally ready to replace real authors.
As writers, AI may steal our content and try to re-work it; but we can still one-up it by telling stories about how that happened.
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