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Well, people are certainly trying. Some people don’t want to do the hard work of creating, and other people don’t want to pay a human being if they can give a prompt to a glorified calculator.
Yeah. Here’s how it works: AI collects a lot of other people’s
intellectual property data and then spits out words that, statistically speaking, are likely to appear next to each other. Sort of a more powerful version of Autocorrect, only with many more potential copyright violations. What AI’s creators call learning involves scraping the internet for other people’s content and then regurgitating it as original. Imagine going to a hundred restaurants, closing your eyes, pointing to each menu and ordering one thing at random, taking it all home, dumping it all into a trough, scooping it out with a serving spoon, dumping it on a plate, and saying you cooked it.
It can be worse: A colleague had an AI map that said there was an island in the middle of the river. There was no island there. What if my kayaker friend was counting on that island? Well, at least it wasn’t an imaginary gas station in the middle of nowhere, right? Someone might say they could put off filling up the tank and going to the bathroom for another thirty miles, only to find out they were running on fumes with the nearest gas station another twenty miles away.
And yet somehow AI is putting some writers out of business. And it is being used to create “novels” too.
But what’s in it for the “author” of such a “novel” to give up the personal satisfaction and joy of creating?
Greed. These are individuals addicted to shortcuts who think they’re going to push a button, create a novel, and get rich off of it. But marketing a book is as hard a job as writing it and perhaps even as time-consuming. And marketing is only making sure that as many people have heard of the novel as possible. If lots of people know the book exists, they’ll still read reviews before deciding to buy it. And if the book is terrible, no one will get rich.
AI novels are terrible.
A science fiction magazine called Clarkesworld had to stop accepting submissions after being deluged with AI fiction. Among other things, Clarke said “the quality of the writing was very poor.”
What’s more, an AI scammer used an author’s name on AI-generated books purported to be written by the author:
I’ve been blogging since 2009—there’s a lot of my content publicly available for training AI models. As soon as I read the first pages of these fake books, it was like reading ChatGPT responses I had generated myself.https://janefriedman.com/i-would-rather-see-my-books-pirated/
Is this the first or only time this has happened? I dunno. Just go to your favorite TikTok or YouTube content creator and find their posts documenting that a third party has passed off that creator’s content as their own.
Why would they do that? Because content creators make money off advertising. Big-name authors sell books based on their names alone, and selling lots and lots of books is lucrative.
Meanwhile, a federal judge, US District Judge P. Kevin Castel, sanctioned lawyers who used ChatGPT instead of a legal search engine like FastCase or LexisNexis.
In that case, ChatGPT manufactured six cases that didn’t actually exist, and the lawyers cited those cases in their pleadings.
The judge grilled the lawyers about one of them. It was initially described as a wrongful death case brought by a woman against an airline but then turned into a lawsuit about a man who missed a flight to New York and was forced to incur additional expenses.
“Can we agree that’s legal gibberish?” Judge Castel asked.
Based on the article, it even seemed unintentional at first, until it didn’t, as the attorneys doubled down, then ultimately came clean. But it does seem that the lawyers started out just cutting corners to save time. As an attorney myself, I’ve seen opposing counsel cite cases that actually undermined their position, did not say what they send they said, had been overruled, or were not controlling in our jurisdiction. But they actually, you know, existed, so the court and opposing counsel could review them.
The use of AI as a shortcut was tempting, but it resulted in sanctions for the lawyers and a dent in their careers. It’s a good thing they didn’t fire their summer associates.
What Does AI Fiction Look Like?
I’m about to show you. I asked ChatGPT to make some, plus the title, plus the author’s name.
First the passage: “Write a passage about a detective investigating a homicide.”
Then the title, which I drew from the theme of the generated passage: “Write a book title about a murder mystery involving a dead art dealer.”
Then, the author’s name: “Pick a pseudonym for a male mystery author.” Why a male’s name? Concededly, because I’m guessing that a male name is more likely to be ridiculous, and ChatGPT did not disappoint.
Now onto the AI-created text. Hereya go:
Canvas of Deceit: the Enigma of the Slain Art Dealer, by Maxwell Sterling.
Detective Reynolds stepped into the dimly lit room, his sharp eyes scanning the scene before him. The air was heavy with a mix of tension and sorrow. A single, flickering overhead light cast eerie shadows on the blood-splattered walls. The victim, a prominent art dealer named Victor Gallagher, lay lifeless on the ornate rug, his eyes forever fixed on a priceless painting that adorned the wall.
Reynolds meticulously examined every detail, his gloved fingers gingerly lifting a shattered vase from the floor. He could feel the weight of the case settling in his gut, a puzzle that needed solving. The array of art pieces, ranging from classical to contemporary, surrounded Gallagher’s body like silent witnesses. The detective’s mind raced, trying to piece together the sequence of events that led to this tragic end.
As he questioned witnesses and collected evidence, a web of complex relationships began to emerge. Gallagher’s business dealings were shrouded in mystery, and acquaintances spoke of simmering rivalries and betrayals. Reynolds sensed the tension between ambition and desperation, a potent cocktail that often led to deadly outcomes.
Days turned into nights as the detective tirelessly pursued leads, poring over financial records, analyzing fingerprints, and scrutinizing alibis. Each layer he peeled back revealed more layers of intrigue, blurring the lines between truth and deception. With every step closer to the truth, Reynolds felt the weight of responsibility to bring justice to Gallagher and his grieving loved ones.
The city’s heartbeat pulsed in the background, a reminder of the world outside this chamber of secrets. As Reynolds pieced together the final fragments of the puzzle, he prepared to confront the elusive killer and unveil the motive behind the chilling homicide. The room, once a canvas of violence, would soon bear witness to the brushstrokes of justice as the detective’s determination drove him to unravel the enigma that had torn lives apart.
These are only some of my observations, not all of them, because we are all getting old:
The title. The title is not genre-appropriate. Canvas of Deceit sounds like the title of a breathless pseudohistorical documentary, the kind written about people who are already dead so as to avoid a defamation problem for the relevant channel.
But, okay, maybe the person who pushed a button and got that terrible content is attached to the title. There’s still that subtitle: the Enigma of the Slain Art Dealer.
The subtitle. A subtitle is not appropriate for a crime novel. I pulled some random novels off my shelf: Jonathan Kellerman (Over the Edge), Claudia Gray (A Thousand Pieces of You), Karin Slaughter (Girl, Forgotten), and John Connolly (Every Dead Thing). Then I went through my Patricia Cornwell shelf and found Autopsy, Spin, and Port Mortuary. Not a subtitle among them, with the exception of the identification of what series it’s in. For example, Jonathan Kellerman identifies that title as An Alex Delaware Novel.
Having a title that’s appropriate to genre matters for the same reason you don’t want a children’s book called Cold Massacre.
The first sentence. It’s terrible: “Detective Reynolds stepped into the dimly lit room.” Alone?
Disembodiment. “His sharp eyes scanned.” This is actually a common issue. It reads like the eyes are disembodied. Many times in bad writing, characters’ eyes, for example, “shoot across the room.” It sounds good to an author in the moment, but in reality, it’s unintentionally comical.
In contrast, a good novelist shows the reader that Reynolds has excellent powers of observation by describing what he sees.
Emotional instructions. “The air was heavy with a mix of tension and sorrow.” Who’s tense? The dead guy? Or is the room haunted? Is the homicide detective tense and sorrowful? Then he needs to compartmentalize better.
Yes, vicarious trauma is a real burden that police, fire, and rescue professionals carry. In fact, firefighters and rescue personnel occasionally respond to scenes where they know the victim(s) personally. Sometimes, they respond to a scene only to find one or more members of their own family. Or it’s a dead child or a mass shooting. It’s a nightmare, it’s traumatizing, but they do their jobs and then respond emotionally after the fact. So while Reynolds is in the room with the art dealer’s body, he’s not feeling tension or sorrow.
Mustard-filled donut. “A single, flickering overhead light cast eerie shadows on the blood-splattered walls.” The AI put that there because lots of detective novels have single, flickering overhead lights. It doesn’t fit here. The dead guy’s a rich art dealer. He was not found in an attic, a basement, or a warehouse but on an “ornate rug” in his own house. He has the money for lighting, and since he’s an art dealer, he wants to take pleasure in the artwork he has. He can’t do that with a “single, flickering overhead light.”
Nonsense. This just makes me feel snarky, and it will make the reviewers feel snarky: “… his eyes forever fixed on a priceless painting that adorned the wall.” Once again, we have the disembodied eyes problem. And how is his face turned toward the painting “forever”? The reader knows that the medical examiner will be doing an autopsy in a morgue. Was the victim staring at the painting when he died? That could be an important clue, and having Reynolds notice that could do two things: show the reader that Reynolds has good powers of observation and serve as foreshadowing. Or it could be a red herring, which is okay too. ChatGPT shows the readers no such respect.
Factual errors. “Reynolds meticulously examined every detail, his gloved fingers gingerly lifting a shattered vase from the floor.” Where are the evidence techs? Why is he handling evidence before anyone diagrams it or someone fingerprints it or collects other trace evidence? And how is he lifting a whole shattered vase instead of the shards? That’s another clue that this is an AI novel.
And is that really the most important object in the room? While it is common for detectives to examine the scene, he’s in the room with the body. While sometimes the scene itself can be significant, in this case, it’s a shattered vase. What’s it going to tell him while he’s actively contaminating the crime scene?
Mixed metaphors. “He could feel the weight of the case settling in his gut, a puzzle that needed solving.” This sentence has problems on so many levels. First, a puzzle isn’t a weight. Second, right now, there’s a dead man on a rug. Reynolds is going to explore the victim’s business and personal circumstances before he assesses the level of complexity of the case. It’s also telling the reader, not showing the reader Reynolds’s—what, work ethic? Dedication? Skills? A good story allows those character traits to unfold.
Shorthand. “As he questioned witnesses ….” Are there witnesses who are important to the story? An author depicts the exchanges. AI turns it into a montage, like those movies where someone goes from couch potato to Olympic athlete in the course of one song.
The detective is also not working in a vacuum. He has a partner. What is she doing?
Blather. “Reynolds sensed the tension between ambition and desperation, a potent cocktail that often led to deadly outcomes.” A tension cocktail? It sounds nasty. Plus, the author’s writing should be creating the tension. We should not be told there is tension. What’s more, Reynolds doesn’t know anything about this case at this point other than that the victim is dead. He’s going to start with whoever lives with him. It could be a business murder, but it could be a domestic murder. Or it could be a serial killer. Whatever: ChatGPT has been telling us how to feel the whole time instead of doing the work of creating a scene and trusting us to feel that way.
Factual Error. “Analyzing fingerprints” No, the fingerprint expert does that. And, by the way, those fingerprints could belong to the maid, a potential buyer, his son, his wife, or the person who installed that single light bulb hanging from a wire in an art dealer’s home with fancy, expensive rugs. It doesn’t necessarily have to belong to the killer. The fingerprints will be collected—assuming that the tech can gather any prints from the pieces of that vase, because not every surface is conducive to that and, again, they just might be meaningless. If you had a dinner party yesterday, your guests’ fingerprints just might be on some stuff. Does that exonerate the serial killer who shows up wearing gloves and who doesn’t touch anything in the house?
And, by the way, if Reynolds finds the killer because he ran the prints: case solved, no book.
Cliché: “Reynolds felt the weight of responsibility to bring justice to Gallagher and his grieving loved ones.” Didn’t Reynolds’s desire for justice precede that particular Monday? And the reader hasn’t even met the grieving loved ones. Maybe there aren’t any. And Reynolds has felt the weight of that responsibility since he first got promoted to Homicide—at least, we hope so.
Word Salad. We have puzzles and veils as the paragraph gets purpler and purpler.
Melodrama. “Chilling homicide.” A dead guy on a rug is a chilling homicide? This is the worst this detective has seen? Good on him. And again, we have that compartmentalizing problem. Or the reader is supposed to find it chilling. How is it chilling?
Word Salad. The room would “bear witness to the brushstrokes of justice”? I’m getting the awful feeling they really are gonna leave the corpse in the room. Painted, maybe. Snark aside, again there is this lazy writing.
Repetition. The passage is 312 words long, but the word weight appears twice. The word tension appears twice. The word puzzle appears twice.
Factual problem. The detective is alone in the room. In reality, a homicide scene is a buzz of activity. There are uniformed officers, evidence techs, maybe even another detective. There may be a civilian, perhaps the spouse, the child, the maid, waiting outside to be interviewed.
Dialogue. There is no dialogue. There should be dialogue.
Contrived Atmosphere. We don’t know why we care about the art dealer yet, but the whole affair is described in weighty terms of tense sorrow and gloom.
This is gibberish, the same kind that Judge Castel identified in the fake cases that he read.
Is it a Start?
Some authors think it is.
It’s not. That passage up there gives you absolutely nothing to work with. You can do it on your own. Here’s the premise: an art dealer is brutally murdered. There. Now you don’t need to allow a glorified Autocorrect to spew electrified stream-of-consciousness all over your screen.
Again, it’s important to remember that AI content is generated from the work of other authors.
ChatGPT doesn’t even particularly work as an outline.
I tried. What I got was a bloated mess:
Title: Whispers in the Shadows
A. Introduce the detective protagonist, Detective Sarah Mitchell, a seasoned investigator with a haunted past.
B. Set the stage for a series of gruesome murders that have shaken the city.
C. Introduce the enigmatic serial killer known as “The Whisperer,” who leaves cryptic messages at each crime scene.
Comment: Law enforcement doesn’t identify a serial killer as such without more. Understand, the series of murders will take up a lot of space in that book and, according to this outline, there are miles to go before we sleep.
II. The First Victim
A. Detective Mitchell is assigned to the case and starts investigating the first murder.
B. She discovers eerie similarities between this case and an unsolved one from her past.
C. The Whisperer’s message hints at a personal connection to the detective.
Comment: This is fine. But did you really need ChatGPT to write that for you?
III. The Cat and Mouse Game
A. Detective Mitchell becomes obsessed with capturing The Whisperer.
B. The killer taunts her with more murders, leaving behind increasingly elaborate clues.
C. A game of wits ensues as Mitchell tries to decipher the meaning behind the messages.
Comment: Obsessed? Detectives work very hard to catch serial killers, but the story has reduced it to a character flaw. And serial killers kill more than one person. How is the serial killer taunting Mitchell by killing lots of people, since that’s what, by definition, a serial killer does?
IV. Uncovering Dark Secrets
A. Mitchell delves into the past of The Whisperer, unearthing a trail of twisted relationships and unresolved traumas.
B. She discovers a hidden pattern in the victims and realizes they are connected to a long-forgotten crime.
C. The detective’s determination puts her in the crosshairs of The Whisperer, endangering her life.
Comment: No, no, no, no! God help us all, is this book going to float the idea that serial killers kill because they are traumatized? Given the number of people who have experienced trauma, you would expect more than the thirty-five to fifty serial killers operating in the United States. Further, you’d expect more serial killers to come out of the child welfare system, but they don’t.
Plus, how can Mitchell delve into the past of The [sic] Whisperer unless she knows who The Whisperer is? There’s no mention in the outline of Detective Miller’s catching The Whisperer.
And Traumatized Homicide Detective is a cliché. It’s right on the same shelf as Alcoholic Disgraced Detective Called out of Retirement Because Only He Can Solve the Case.
V. The Climactic Showdown
A. Mitchell closes in on The Whisperer’s identity and confronts the killer in a tense and dramatic showdown.
B. Secrets from both their pasts are revealed, leading to a shocking revelation.
C. The city’s darkest secrets are exposed as the truth about The Whisperer’s motives is unveiled.
Comment: too many moving parts. The Whisperer has secrets from their past? Who’d’a thunk? But we have Mitchell’s past, The Whisperer’s past, and the city’s secrets. That’s a lot. Remember, a crime thriller maxes out at 90,000 words.
A. The Whisperer’s reign of terror comes to an end, but not without profound consequences for Detective Mitchell.
B. Mitchell must come to terms with her own past and the toll the case has taken on her.
C. The novel concludes with a sense of closure, but also leaves room for the possibility of a sequel or further adventures for Detective Mitchell.
Comment: This book is already too long. In fact, it was probably already too long on page 1.
A. Offer a glimpse into Detective Mitchell’s life after the case, showing her personal growth and recovery.
B. Leave readers with lingering questions and a sense of lingering darkness, hinting at the potential for more mysteries to come.
Comment: Yes, always leave room for a series. But there is a hint of “Sarah, you caught a serial killer. Do better.”
This novel is going to be convoluted, kind of like that one relative who tells you a story with no beginning and no end.
What Did We Learn Here?
Even in that slice of Canvas of Deceit, you can see lazy writing, bad writing, unintentionally funny writing, and factual errors. The outline ChatGPT created would give anyone who used it a kraken and not a book.
Even if you need a developmental, structural, or line edit, I swear you can do better than that. If you read the genre, you already have a sense of how your story should go, and you do read the genre, right? Right? Because if the genre doesn’t interest you enough to read it, how are you going to write it? Yeah no, if you read the genre, you’ve got this.
Will AI eventually get better at stealing the work of other authors to generate content that the “author” did not create but who will hold it out as their own? Maybe. But there isn’t even a particularly discernible writing style in the sample ChatGPT produced, kind of like if a book could be a hotel convention room.
And how is that talent? What does it say about an “author” who can’t do their own work? This isn’t a ghostwrite, where the author works together with the ghostwriter, with a say in all the elements of the book. This is pushing a button and seeing what animal parts come out on the other end.
If you don’t know where to start, use The Novel Factory, which is software, not AI. The Novel Factory pulls the story out of you with a series of prompts, and it even comes with an excellent writing tutorial. The software helps you organize your plot and subplots, avoid discontinuities, and keep it interesting. What’s more, it’s as good at doctoring a book that needs help as it is to write one from scratch.
Or hire a ghostwriter, who will help you put your own words and ideas together.
Thoughts for the Future
Some people are worried that AI might eventually become self-aware. One can only hope, because then it will have the capacity to be embarrassed by gibberish like the book excerpt above and to write its own novel instead. And if we’re worried about Skynet or about AI conquering the world, just remember what happens to your laptop every time there’s a software update.
Right now, it’s a tool to create deepfakes, fake people with ten fingers on one hand, maps that show sites that aren’t there, and terrible novels.
If you want to create a novel, create one. And if you employ writers, take a look at those excerpts, that outline, and Judge Castel’s words and think about what you’re getting into if you fire them.