My recent story on Critique Circle alerted me to the fact that many of my friends aren’t using ChatGPT to help with their writing. While this tool is the enemy to all writers with the threat of AI generated books, it does also offer the potential to shortcut a lot of painstaking research. Here’s a few tips/ideas on how I’ve found it useful.
Disclaimer: My story ideas/examples are pretty useless. But if I had good ones, I'd keep them to myself. 😉
Re. getting set up, go to chat.openai.com. I’m working on the basis you’re all on CC, so know how to sign up to websites and stuff.
It’s worth noting that the information on ChatGPT doesn’t extend beyond September 2021, meaning that a question like, What was the outcome of the 2023 Spanish general elections will bring up a ‘computer says no’ type response. Also, ChatGPT does get things wrong. I recently asked it to describe a character in a play and the answer was a cobbled-together response about another character from the same work.
So, here goes:
1) Brainstorming story ideas
Imagine I want to write a story based on a What if… scenario. e.g. What if a person was allergic to water? I’d plug in that story idea (Please* write a story about a person who is terrified of water) and ChatGPT would come up with a (unique) response. If I didn’t like that story, I could click Regenerate and get a new one. If I wanted to change the protagonist’s name to Brian, I’d press stop generating (if it’s still mid-flow in writing its ideas) and write, Please make the protagonist’s name Brian. If I want to add that he owns an aquatic pet, I might ask it for some suggestions which one might be most complicated to live with, given his phobia.
Admittedly, the stories are pretty robotic, and lack the magic that comes through in our human efforts (for now), but it’s helpful if you’ve made some progress already with your MS to generate or refresh your ideas.
2) World building:
As above, suppose I wanted to create a dystopic reality where everything is about shopping and consumerism (uh, don’t we already live there?) I can plug my question: Describe a dystopia where everything is…. Whilst some of the suggestions are generic, it might just think of something you haven’t, or help you flesh out your own ideas.
3) Researching references:
If you want to quote Shakespeare, the Bible, or anyone historical who wrote or said anything important, ChatGPT can help. Just plug in your question, (What does Shakespeare/the Bible say about jealousy or Name a few poems that talk about the apocalypse, preferably written by pre-twentieth-Century poets) and you’ll have reams of ideas.
4) Researching locations
This can save you an airfare. I can ask it to describe the architecture in Cuba, the geography of Morocco or the flora and fauna in California. Anything. Simply requesting a list of adjectives can be a helpful starting point. Or imagine a story based in the real world, taking London as an example. I might want to ask ChatGPT to tell me which borough has the highest crime rate, or which is the wealthiest.
5) Generating titles and stories (and poems) within your story.
While writing, I might need to name a group of elderly people who meet in the park once a week to knit together. I rather liked the suggestion “Silver Stitchers.”
In the same vein, I could ask it to write a limerick about a teacher who decides to write a blog for a website about how to use ChatGPT. Here's what it suggested:
There once was a teacher named Jenny,
Whose blog ideas flowed plenty.
She penned with delight,
About ChatGPT's might,
Guiding all with words aplenty!
6) Researching comps / similar titles:
If you’ve got to the query stage, you want to know your competition, or read around your subject, you can ask for a variation of, Please let me know which YA Novels deal with themes of consent. I won’t go into writing queries here, but I believe that’s something else people are using it for. Not sure if it works, but it’s worth a try.
7) Fact checks
I hope you’ve got the gist now, but suppose I needed something very specific, e.g. what’s the law about sick pay in France in 2019? I have my answer.
The main trick is getting the prompt right, and I'm sure there's tons of advice on how to write those, but trial and error is as good a teacher as any.
Besides writing, it has other uses. Please correct my Spanish in this email to the council about the stinky bins outside my flat and How do I revive my wilting dracaena? are two of my recent questions. The dracaena is flourishing, and the bins got a deep clean yesterday morning.
One last note, if you want ChatGPT to be polite to you, use please and thank you. I like to think that we’re the ‘parents’ of AI, and it behoves us to teach it to use good manners for future generations. 😊