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I went toe-to-toe with ChatGPT... I really hope I won.

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

ChatGPT is the ultra-buzzy Artificial Intelligence language model developed by OpenAI that uses deep learning algorithms to generate text. It’s been trained on a massive amount of data from the internet, including web pages, books, and more. This allows it to generate text that is often human-like in nature.

Interesting for writers everywhere is that it’s been trained on literary works including novels, short stories, poetry, plays. This means that it has knowledge of, and can reference, works from a wide range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, and more – as well as a large variety of literary styles and structures. When asked specifically, ChatGPT told me that it knows Shakespeare's plays and poems. Which is, sadly, much more than I can claim (but I blame the English Education system!)

So I decided to put ChatGPT to a test. One that would explore its creativity rather than its knowledge. In 2021 I had written a micro-story for a Halloween competition, so I basically gave ChatGPT the same instructions: write a Halloween story, 100 words or less, must include the words 'glow-in-the-dark' and 'goodies.' I added ‘scary’ so it would be roughly the same in tone, and wouldn’t come out as middle-school reading level.

There we have it: one of the two following stories is by me, one by ChatGPT. I confess I tidied up the ChatGPT version slightly, but with only a light touch. Guess who wrote which one!

Story 1

AS THE MOON ROSE, a young girl bravely approached the abandoned house, eager to collect Halloween goodies. But as she stepped inside, she realized she was not alone. The walls began to creak, the floorboards groaned, and the glow-in-the-dark decorations transformed into ghastly figures. Suddenly, she was surrounded by a horde of demonic creatures, reaching out to her with their bony hands. She tried to run, but the door had disappeared. The creatures closed in, their eyes fixed upon her, as she screamed. The only thing left behind was a bag of candy on the floor, abandoned in the darkness.

Story 2

WHEN DAD LIT THE CANDLE INSIDE OUR PUMPKIN my neck was suddenly all goosebumps. Dad recoiled, and Mum screamed. We’d bought the pumpkin at 'D’Veels Goodies'. The man who sold it to us had weird eyes above his mask, which frightened me. But we’d carved a fun, goofy smile onto it. But now, on our doorstep, it was flaming. But not burning up. The fire crackled, but it sounded like cackling. Dad said, “In the car. Now!” We

drove away. Fast. All the houses we passed had the same burning pumpkins outside, and the horizon was like a glowin-the-dark necklace.

Okay, so this is a very narrow experiment, but consider which one you prefer. Now consider which one is more creative. Which one has a spark of personality, originality and, let’s face it, humanity?

Story 1 has a nice creative turn as the glow-in-the-dark decorations transform into ghastly figures, and then again with making the door disappear. Story 2 neatly links crackling and cackling, and then scales up the horror with it being some kind of demonic invasion and “the

horizon…like a glow-in-the-dark necklace.” Within the 100 word limit neither have a ton of room to be incredibly creative, but for me it’s close to a tie on creativity. Scary!

But scary in a totally non-Halloween way. Not scary because ChatGPT is suddenly going to put writers out of business, but because it highlights the threshold for creative choices. What do I mean? If you’re not making bold creative choices your writing won’t stand out more than

what an AI can do as a kind of party trick, will lack the humanity of drama, and the drama of humanity. ChatGPT may be digging up Shakespeare for recycled prose, but it’s not a real human with a real life and real feelings. The quote, “Be kind, because everyone is fighting a hard battle” reinforces that – you, yes you, and your characters. ChatGPT isn’t fighting a hard battle (at least I hope not, because then all bets really are off for us as writers).

My advice? Challenge your own creative choices at all those critical moments – the arc of the story as you dream it, the critical scenes that raise the stakes of the drama, the compelling word or phrase that illuminate our lives. If you’re writing the next great Young Adult or New Adult novel, find a way to have a fresh set of eyes look at it long before you’ve written 120,000 words that simply aren’t, well, going to cut it.

At Effigy Press we offer a free service where we give a candid review of the first 600 words of your novel which will give you a sense if you’re on the right track or not. And we invite you to sign up for future blogs, where I look forward to sharing more complex creative writing experiments with ChatGPT along with more human perspectives on writing.

And keep fighting your hard battle!

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