The Genie is out of the bottle. Will AI replace Novelists?
Updated: Jul 15
The uncanny flawlessness and soullessness of AI-generated text
As a novelist, I find myself increasingly apprehensive about the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of our profession. Will AI become the dominant force in literature that renders us obsolete?
While I am amazed at the technical flawlessness of AI-generated text, I do also find it creepy and soulless, and disconcerting to think that this bland homogeneity could be the way of the future in novels. And whilst I don’t feel overly threatened at present, still I do wonder whether AI may soon get so good that it will replace novelists and be capable of producing emotionally nuanced and detailed writing over extended passages.
For authors, writing is not just a task; it’s a passion. Every aspect of writing, even the challenging and frustrating tasks, contribute to the evolution of an original work. Asking a machine to do it robs us of that opportunity and undermines the essence of the creative process. Regardless of how closely AI mimics our writing style through prompts, it is incapable of imbuing a lengthy piece with the distinct nuances that stem from our unique perspectives, emotions, and personal journeys. It misses the ongoing process of in-depth research, and the discernment and refinement that shapes the way we tell stories. Do readers and publishers care? Do they see the difference? I think they do. As a reader, I certainly do.
Author and publisher concerns amidst the influx of AI-generated books
In the world of publishing, AI-generated books that name "ChatGPT" as the author are already flooding Amazon's Kindle store. The Authors Guild – whose mission is to “advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright . . . create community fight for a living wage,” is concerned about the tsunami of low-priced, low-quality books that could soon be saturating the market, making it increasingly challenging for human authors to find their readership and for readers to find the authors.
Publishers also face the challenges of detecting and managing AI-created novels. Some may view the elimination of human authors as a cost-saving opportunity and choose to rely instead on AI to generate their own books, while others may decide to exclusively publish human-produced books in order to maintain the high quality of craftsmanship that their consumers are used to.
As the ongoing feud between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) shows, it is clear that professional writers, editors, cover designers, and book formatters share concerns not only about the impact that AI has on creativity but also about how it is replacing human labor and infringing on their intellectual property as it draws content from existing sources, including published works by human authors without seeking their permission.
The genie is out of the bottle - Embracing human creativity while making friends with AI.
Personally, I regret that AI has been let loose without any guard rails. However, since it is clearly here to stay, I’ve taken the position that I had better get comfortable in this uneasy relationship.
Based on my own experience, I've come to realize that AI can be handy for certain tasks of the creative process. I liken it to a turbo-charged thesaurus that can handle basic editing and proofreading tasks, which is an incredible time-saver, and gives me more time to focus on research and deep editing, both of which (at present) require the human touch.
It would seem that I am not alone. A recent survey of 1,700 authors revealed that 23% of writers reported using generative AI as part of their writing process. Of these 47% said they use it as a grammar tool, 29% for brainstorming plot ideas and characters, 14% to structure or organize drafts, and 26% in their marketing.
However, only around 7% of writers who employ generative AI said they use it to generate the text of their work.
Will AI replace novelists of literary fiction?
Being a writer of historical, literary non-fiction, who is deeply dependent on primary sources, I completely steer clear of relying on AI for even the most basic research. This became crystal clear to me when I queried the biography of a real character for my novella, Sepia Dawn.
Garn Dobson was a World War 1 Canadian musician from Belleville Ontario, who volunteered and was sent to the Western Front as the leader of a military band. AI produced a fulsome biography that was more detailed than anything I had been able to dig up in my own research, which sounded credible. However, I immediately picked up factual errors- including the misinformation he had been killed in battle. When I asked for the sources of all this information, I discovered that these were all fabricated.
As for creating literary narrative and diving deep into editing, AI might be useful for children's stories or non-fiction pieces – or even short stories, but for a long-form literary narrative, it still has a long way to go in capturing the emotions, motivations, and personal values of characters, as well as the themes - and aligning all these elements within a complex story arc that flows. This would need so many prompts to even come close to what I would wish to achieve that it's easier and more efficient for me to write the content myself. That said, I have on occasion found that using prompts in the editing process can help to clarify my thoughts as a writer and gets those creative gears turning.
Considering all that, I'm slowly starting to make peace with AI and trying to get along with it - even make it my friend. It's reassuring to know that AI can't (yet) create top-notch novels without human involvement and I expect that it will take some time before AI can produce a full-length novel with all the depth and natural flow and originality that human writers bring, unless it's given a ton of well articulated human prompts.
For now, my focus is on pouring my heart and soul into crafting narratives that I hope will touch readers and give them a unique reading experience. So, with that, I'll keep on writing, and trusting - at least for now - in the unrivaled power of human creativity.