Artificial intelligence for writing? Will AI replace authors? These are questions that recur in recent writing about emerging AI tech. Alarm is a common response to change. Yet it’s not all dystopian in outlook. Here are ten helpful AI uses for writers and reasons to play and explore:
10 ways an AI writing generator could help your process:
AI writing tools are fun to play around with (and play is a vital part of creative process). Use tools such as ChatGPT by OpenAI or Sudowrite to serve your writing process. At the same time, there are serious ethical questions, and concerns about its impacts (and it is wise to keep aware of the potential for plagiarism and misinformation).
- Brainstorm story ideas you wouldn’t have imagined
An auto-generated idea may be weak, but may also contain the seed of a novel story idea you can use.
- Use an ai writing generator to twist words and phrases
You may randomize a quote or saying into another idea (or ten). An unexpected result might even take you down a more exciting route.
- Expand (or condense) ideas easier
For example, you could use AI writing tools to expand the idea of a ‘factory’ setting and involve the senses more – what characters hear, see, touch, smell.
- Find plot developments when you’re feeling blocked
You might say ‘finish this incomplete sentence five different ways’, then use the AI output you like most as the starting point for your own (i.e. better), more natural version.
- Find synonyms, rhymes, and other related words
AI writing tools provide a way to vary and connect a word or phrase you have to another faster than using a thesaurus.
- Think up names (and their meanings)
Instead of a name generator that has one output, create a list of options you can vary in niche ways (e.g. ‘a list of names starting with A that mean clarity or hope’).
- Paraphrase quickly
What if a paragraph feels wordy and you want faster pacing? Use AI writing tools to paraphrase for concision or a shift in tone or style.
- Initiate story research
If you don’t know a subject well, AI writing tools provide a useful starting point to find related terms and concepts (but beware uncited or made-up supposed facts).
- Create writing prompts for your crit circle
Use AI writing tools to find fun writing prompts on a style, concept or for a specific genre and create surreal or serious options.
- Find ideas for figurative language
Metaphor, metonymy (where a part stands for the whole, like ‘The Crown’ meaning a monarch) are figurative language devices. AI writing tools can help you find more.
Let’s explore creative ways to use AI writing generators:
Brainstorm story ideas you wouldn’t have imagined
There are many ways to find story ideas. Yet AI writing tools make it easier to brainstorm ideas you might not have imagined otherwise.
For example, when you think ‘feel-good holiday romance’ your mind may go to typical story settings first. Tropical islands. Or a character visits family back home somewhere rural or unexceptional, only to find an exceptional love.
What if we ask the AI tool and chatbot ChatGPT to give us ‘three feel-good holiday romance prompts featuring atypical romance settings’?
These are the auto-generated results:
A train journey: A young woman and a man, both traveling alone, meet on a long-distance train trip during the holiday season. They initially don’t like each other but are forced to spend time together due to the close quarters.
A Christmas market: A man and a woman, who are both struggling with their own personal issues, meet at a Christmas market. They bond over their shared love for the holiday season, spend more time together, and begin to fall in love and find healing in each other.
A food truck: A woman who is a chef and runs a food truck, meets a man who is a food blogger while working during the holiday season. They both have a love of food, and they start working together and experimenting with new flavors, they begin to discover their common interest and they start falling in love while they cook.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
Each output has several generic elements (the implied ‘enemies to lovers’ romance trope in the first option, for example). Yet each might have at least some usable elements (such as romantic leads meeting on a long-distance journey) that you can develop further.
AI writing tools supply a point of departure – writing still is best when you bring your own, totally human voice and experience to your work.
Will AI replace authors?
It’s difficult to say – authors are not just word generators as this AI-written, repetitive Medium article shows.
AI, like people, needs not only input to create but input on the output, too – editing.
Key criticisms of AI for writing such as ChatGPT:
- Misinformation: It may make up facts and quotes, due to the predictive nature of the way the tool creates.
- Cliched, formulaic or robotic outputs: Language is alive, constantly changing (in vernacular language such as slang for example), and nuanced. Drawing from a large pool of data and recombining predictively doesn’t equate to original thought, as The Atlantic shares. ‘Treat it like a toy, not a tool’, says Ian Bogost.
- Ethical questions: Many artists and writers have objected to the ways AI generative tools have been trained on work without the original creator’s express consent.
Ed’s note: A fan sent Australian musician Nick Cave an AI-generated song to which Cave replied it was a ‘a grotesque mockery’, saying that art ‘requires my humanness’.
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Use an AI writing generator to twist words and phrases
There is so much dead language that is re-used and recycled. Live, laugh, love. Despite what Nick Cave says, many songs by human writers recycle the same old tropes.
Overused sayings, quotes and lines tend to hollow writing out, making it seem shallower, a pastiche of quotation (which might be a stylistic effect you want, of course).
If you want to take the obvious and give it a twist, though, artificial intelligence for writing comes in handy.
You could give an AI chatbot, for example, the prompt ‘ten sentences in the grammatical form of ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar’. Here’s what ChatGPT returned:
You’ll have more success with kindness than with anger.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
You’ll accomplish more with a positive attitude than a negative one.
You’ll achieve more with sweetness than with sourness.
You’ll get farther with flattery than with criticism.
You’ll make more progress with generosity than with stinginess.
You’ll win more hearts with compliments than with insults.
You’ll gain more support with praise than with blame.
You’ll find more cooperation with a friendly approach than a hostile one.
You’ll earn more trust with honesty than with deception.
You’ll achieve more with a gentle touch than with a heavy hand.
These examples lose the vivid imagery of the original (catching flies with a sweet or acrid substance). So you could turn one of the above sayings back into something more impactful by replacing robotic abstraction with concrete language.
- You’ll gain more ears with a flute than a vuvuzela.
- You’ll get farther with a wink than a grimace.
- You’ll find more allies with a warm handshake than a rough frisk.
- You’ll earn more trust in a pulpit than a bunker.
Human: 1, machine: 0.5.
Expand (or condense) ideas easier
AI writing tools are useful when you want to take a word, concept or idea and unpack associations or connected concepts quickly.
Say, for example, you set a story in a factory but have never set foot on a factory floor.
You could give an AI writing generator the prompt ‘Describe five sounds in a clothing factory.’ The output gave expected results, though the fifth was less predictable. Paraphrased (each answer was a paragraph), we got:
- The sound of sewing machines.
- The noise of fabric being cut.
- Strains of laughter and chatter.
- The sound of footsteps.
- Music being played for focus and motivation
From a condensed output like this, you could then create a setting and write a paragraph of your own, human description.
Muneera loved the whir of the needle (but not the sudden scratch like a record’s arm removed fast when it occasionally caught and snagged). As scissors went snip, click, clack, her colleagues at the next bench laughed and chatted to the newbie who some of them still mistrusted. They fell silent at the sound of heavy footsteps – Newbie’s predecessor had been fired for the ‘transgression’ of speaking only the week before. Muneera slipped the left headphone out of her ear so as not to be next in line.
Find plot developments when you’re feeling blocked
There are many ways to beat writer’s block. Besides freewriting, creating a regular writing session by attending sprints and other strategies, AI writing tools may help.
Say we have the example paragraph from above and we don’t have an idea of how to continue.
We could put into ChatGPT or another AI writing tool, ‘Finish the sentence, “I hear more chatter than hemming,” the man…’ in five ways’.
Here are five outputs:
1 … the man said, looking around the factory floor with a frown.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
2 … the man observed, shaking his head in disapproval.
3 … the man noted, with a hint of disappointment in his voice.
4 … the man exclaimed, throwing his hands up in frustration.
5 … the man remarked, as he walked through the factory, checking on the progress of the garments.
Reading through the results, you might decide the fifth has the most tension, and elaborate:
“I hear more chatter than hemming,” Mr Roy remarked, walking between the benches to peer over shoulders and check on the garments’ progress. To Muneera’s anxiety, he stopped at her sewing station.
“The order must be shipped tomorrow and you will stay until it’s complete.”
Muneera swore in her head. She couldn’t stay a minute past five that evening.
From this example, you can see how AI writing tools can help to direct the dance of writing. They are no substitute for a human understanding of desire, need, obstacle – for the way we experience GMC (goals, motivations and conflicts) in our everyday lives.
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Find synonyms, rhymes, and other related words
A further useful way to use AI for writing is as a thesaurus, dictionary of rhymes, or other word-finding tool.
For example, say you wanted rhymes for the word ‘to-do’. Typing in, ‘list of rhymes for the word ‘to-do’, we get:
screw, glue, queue, anew, pursue, chew, imbue, subdue, accrue, review, renew, issue, ensue, imbueAuto-generated ChatGPT output
To go a step further, you could brainstorm end-rhyme ideas and type, ‘first two lines of a funny poem containing words [list the above words, comma separated].
The not-good AI output:
My ex left a note and it read “Adieu,”
I guess our love was not meant to imbue.
Yet it could be a starting point, for example, for a poem called ‘Denial’:
My ex left a note and it just read, ‘Screw you!’,
since writing’s rewriting, I made it ‘Adieu …’
I emailed it off to The Paris Review,
though unprinted it sold out their latest issue.
An AI writing generator’s poetic limitations in this case lead to something more playful, an unexpected idea.
Think up names (and their meanings)
Here’s another use of AI writing tools for authors: Coming up with names (whether real, as in logged in a census somewhere, or fantastical).
For example, you could put in, ‘List ten names starting with A that mean hope or clarity’.
The resulting generated list of names even features a justification for going off-brief (like a true writer!):
Aiden: meaning “fiery one” or “fiery”.
Asher: meaning “happy, blessed, fortunate”.
Aurora: meaning “dawn” or “light”.
Abigail: meaning “father’s joy”.
Alba: meaning “dawn” or “light”.
Amelia: meaning “work” or “striving”.
Aria: meaning “air” or “song”.
Aurora: meaning “dawn” or “light”.
Adira: meaning “strong, powerful”.
Abrielle: meaning “God is my father”.
Please note that some of the names may not have exactly “hope” or “clarity” meaning but are related to light, dawn, and positive meaning.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
From here, you might pick a name, or find a new prompt. For example, ‘list of words from five romance languages that mean ‘light’:
French: lumièreAuto-generated ChatGPT output
From this, you could create your own name, for example, a character who narrates:
My ID says Luzanne, but my friends call me Luz. My Spanish viola teacher Mrs Gomes told me it means ‘light’, which is kinda ironic since my little brother says I’m a burden and the biggest goth in the whole school district.
Here, AI writing tools took the idea in a totally different direction, so they can help you let go of an idea you’re attached to that might be keeping other possibilities closed off.
When you want to say something similar in meaning in other words (paraphrase), AI writing tools are useful.
Take the above narration by a girl named Luz. You could give the prompt, ‘Rewrite this paragraph with a sarcastic tone.’
The result ChatGPT gives has a much deeper POV:
Oh yes, my ID may say ‘Luzanne’ but my so-called ‘friends’ have deemed it appropriate to call me ‘Luz’. How delightful. And let’s not forget the cherry on top, my Spanish viola teacher informing me that it means ‘light’. How humorous, considering my dear little brother thinks of me as nothing more than a weight on his shoulders and the self-proclaimed ‘Goth Queen’ of our entire school district.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
Remember to edit or rewrite what you get back always. For example, ‘deemed it appropriate’ above reads pompous/stuffy in tone, and this wasn’t planned for the character. The tool went ham on the lofty tone that often goes hand-in-hand with sarcasm. It could be simplified to ‘but my so-called ‘friends’ call me ‘Luz’.’
Initiate story research
Many have written about how AI generators that draw on large data sets are a threat to Google search, since, like the search engine, they also compile data from diverse sources into a digestible information.
The New York Times called ChatGPT a ‘code red’ for Google’s search business. Google’s co-founders even returned to the company to work on its own similar tools.
One advantage Google still has is inclusion of various trust signals, from reviews to clear sources (so it’s important to fact-check whatever information ChatGPT and similar AI tools give you as the answer to a question, since the information is from a blend of unverifiable – at present – sources).
This all being said, AI writing tools are helpful for initiating research for a complex topic.
Ed’s note: Just today, a Now Novel member asked in our writing forums about the definition of ‘business analysis’ (as it had come up in a university course). Not having studied business, I asked ChatGPT to define the term. The result was surprisingly clear and thorough. Not to bore with the full answer, the tool broke the concept down into subtopics and explained several reasons why business analysis is conducted.
When you research historical or factual content for your story, .edu and other vetted educational sites and printed resources (that will have been through rounds of editing and fact-checking – hopefully – on the road to publication) are still the most reliable for accuracy.
Create writing prompts for your crit circle
The best AI for writing fiction is capable of churning out weird and wonderful writing prompts from a simple line.
For example, this prompt yielded fun story ideas:
‘5 ideas for funny stories about a mistake that happens due to using an AI writing tool’. The output:
Auto-generated ChatGPT output
- A best-selling author uses an AI writing tool to write their next novel, but the AI accidentally incorporates the author’s personal diary entries into the book, causing a scandal.
- A company uses an AI writing tool to generate a press release, but the AI includes a line about the CEO’s secret love affair with a coworker, causing an office scandal.
- A student uses an AI writing tool to write an essay, but the AI includes a line about the student’s thoughts on cheating on the exam, getting the student expelled.
- A wedding planner uses an AI writing tool to write wedding vows, but the AI incorporates hilarious and inappropriate jokes, causing the couple and guests to burst out in laughter during the ceremony.
- A scientist uses an AI writing tool to write a research paper, but the AI includes a line about the scientist’s belief in UFOs and alien abductions, causing the scientist to be laughed at in the scientific community.
What each prompt shows is the inherent foolishness of overreliance on a fallible tool without regard for nuance, purpose, intention, context, and audience – some of the issues editing addresses.
Try a genre-specific prompt, or else a prompt that includes X object, word, tone, mood or emotion.
Join the ‘Craft Challenge’ group on Now Novel where members set each other prompts to exercise our imaginations.
Find ideas for figurative language
Artificial intelligence for writing may not have the human sensibility (or the suffering, as Nick Cave puts it) to write the deepest poetry or least generic lines.
Yet it still may help you come up with metaphors and other figurative language you hadn’t considered.
Using AI writing tools to find figures of speech
Take, for example, the language device of ‘metonymy’, where a part stands for the whole (for example, the way we use ‘The White House’ to refer to the office of the President of the USA).
Finding descriptive, figurative language is sometimes hard. AI writing tools help brainstorm options.
For example, you could find devices to use in a scene set in parliament:
‘5 examples of metonymy where a part of a parliament stands for the whole’ yields:
“The House” is often used as a metonymy to refer to the entire parliament, specifically the lower chamber of the parliament.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
“The Crown” is often used as a metonymy to refer to the monarchy, which is the head of the state in a parliamentary system
“The Bench” is often used as a metonymy to refer to the judges in a parliamentary system
“The Press” is often used as a metonymy to refer to the media in a parliamentary system
“The Lobby” is often used as a metonymy to refer to the public area where politicians meet with interest groups and constituents in a parliamentary system.
From here, you could write a paragraph of narration using some or all of these terms:
The house was packed – after all, it was an election year. The opposition’s leader shook his fist while the press loitered outside the exits, gotcha questions at the ready. The lobby had been littered with paper cups and disappointment the day before when the president gave a feeble address about the energy crisis.
Similarly, you could find a simile (comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’) to describe the above scene. Asked for similes, ChatGPT gave somewhat overused options:
As slippery as an eel.Auto-generated ChatGPT output
As calculating as a fox.
As smooth as silk.
As sharp as a knife.
Yet again – starting points. You could pick one and embellish or alter:
No doubt Ron Slant was upright at the lectern, shaking that fist, Fiona thought, judging by the cries from inside the house. That man thought his tongue was smooth as silk, but she was closer to the ground and knew that most of the working class (at least) heard it for what it was – cheap as polyester, shouting promises that would dwindle to a rustle of denial when they shrank in the wash.
Here, the fabric-related simile an AI writing tool supplied created the idea for a more extended fabric metaphor in the silk/polyester comparison (and the contrast between real/synthetic and valuable/cheap).
Do you use AI writing tools to help with creative writing (or do you plan to give them a try?) Share your thoughts in the comments (and get fully-fledged human writing support when you join Now Novel).
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10 replies on “Artificial intelligence for writing: 10 helpful AI uses”
Thanks for the article. I have only recently discovered these A I tools, but have had fun with them. In writing, I have found when I get totally stumped on a topic I could just ask the A I for an answer and, while it isn’t always something I would use, it at least gets me thinking in a new way.
Hi Billy, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience using these tools. Absolutely, I find it helps me get out of a habitual pattern of thought so I can reset or find another approach (without the AI doing much more than providing a provocation, ‘what about…’ sort of stimulus).
I listened to an NPR interview on AI (specifically ChatGPT), and it wasn’t nearly as helpful or interesting as this article. AI is intimidating because of the wealth of knowledge it draws from and the clarity of communication that many writers struggle with (me, for example… wait, mine?). However, you beautifully illustrate its limitations, as well as its potential.
In line with your “figure of speech”, I plan to use AI to help me with accents and giving my characters more distinct voices once I get through my first draft. For example, “Explain organic chemistry like Donald Duck.” Too bad my teachers never had AI assistance 😁
Hi Margriet, thank you for sharing that – I agree that there’s an interesting mix of limitations, unknowns and possibilities. That sounds a good plan. You reminded me of my favorite Donald Duck clip of all time, when cousin Gus comes to dinner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h93M0fO0gg
Very intriguing article, I have just recently looked into AI writing tools and it’s definitely a fun way to get some ideas.
Thanks for sharing your feedback, FreeFly. I’m glad you found this interesting.
I was stuck on a scene where every action I could come up with was cliched, so I’ve also asked for ten different things a character would do in a given situation. Many of the responses were cliche, but there were a few that were interesting and got me thinking.
Thanks for sharing that, Jonathan. It’s an interesting point, that with a large dataset, the ‘lowest common denominator’ effect (cliches aplenty) comes into play (style-by-majority). Thank goodness for human authors and their individuality, still.
Okay, now I have to load one of these programs to see what the fuss is all about. Damn delicious rabbit holes!!
Hi Loren, ChatGPT is free to use in its beta phase. It is a bit of a rabbit hole; I think good ol’ fashioned hard work the analogue way still has no real substitute when it comes to the arts.