Using ChatGPT to help with your writing

Jenny Torniainen  
Tips / ideas on how to use AI to help with writing.

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. 😊

Thank you!

19+ Comments

Luluo

Aaaand cue the furious comments!

lol, anyway, I personally don’t use ChatGPT for fact checking or aiding my writing, because it’s so very often wrong. I posted about it here: I Caught ChatGPT in Two Errors!

However, if people find uses for it, that’s great. But don’t fact check with it. I’d say you can begin research with it, but don’t take its word on anything.

Nov-06 at 00:19

Andy_jacob

While ChatGPT might help some people with developing ideas, because it’s the ultimate bullshiter, that same quality makes it useless for fact checking. Chat will never tell you it does not know something, it will make up the answer. Same goes for mistakes, which the machine makes, but always sells the answer as the truth.

Nov-06 at 00:23

Shotgun

It must be mentioned that ChatGPT has been progressively neutered by its developers, and the information it can provide has become more limited, due to pressure from copyright holders, governments, advocacy groups, etc. The ability to jailbreak ChatGPT has also been severely restricted. At this point, I think Google is probably more useful than ChatGPT for most of the use-cases you describe.

Nov-06 at 00:32

Lmglomar

I’ve found Anthropic’s AI (Claud.ia) to be good. It has a MUCH larger token window than most of the Open AI stuff. I was able to feed it a chunk of one of my stories and then ask it questions and it was really insightful. It understood all the characters and their dynamics and was able to give me analysis of how things might work out, what characters might do in certain situations and so-on.

Powerful, game changing tools!

Nov-06 at 01:14

Okycool

Great blog Jenny!

Nov-06 at 01:27

Lmglomar

I gave a presentation on the new LLMs at work to a team that works in Design and made that point: “They will be completely wrong with complete certainty,” and someone in the audience said, “Oh. Just like people.”

:laughing:

Nov-06 at 01:41

Arcyl

I don’t recommend Chat-GPT for creating anything that one intends to keep, yet it definitely has its uses. AI prose is really bad, so writing for you is a non-starter.

I do use it for asking random questions that I don’t expect anyone to have asked before, and therefore I wouldn’t get by googling them. Of course, the answers are unreliable, the equivalent of asking a random person on the internet, with the advantage that the AI answers immediately.

Here’s the last thing I asked chat-GPT (with spoilers, in case one of the five people who follow my WIP is lurking in here :grin:):

“describe the differences between an sleeping macaw, and a desiccated macaw? how would they sound if dropped from a meter distance to the ground?”

Nov-06 at 02:29

Mackinaw

While I agree that ChatGPT can be useful when searching for factual information and asking generic questions, I think having it come up with ways to describe things would take away the fun I have in writing.

I like writing stuff because I feel this is something I have to do and I have fun doing it from start to finish, and I like reading stuff because I assume that somebody -a human- wrote it with the same mindset. I wouldn’t care as much if it were an AI because it’s not like it wanted to do it. It would have been asked to. In my mind, this is not the same and, realistically, the AI does not understand what you ask for because when you write something, what you are asking for is beyond words, so to speak.
Of course this is assuming that there is no human intervention other than the prompt, but even if there was I feel this would not feel quite right. In my opinion it would be like deriving purpose from purposeless words.

However, I do agree that it can be quite a useful tool to keep track of worldbuilding and avoiding incoherences, but I believe there are already some sites out there that provide this service specifically, thus making ChatGPT somewhat redundant (I can’t remember the name of those sites for the life of me, so if anyone knows I’d be grateful.)

Nov-06 at 10:04

Lngwstksgk

I find it useful to generate plot points. So I will do things like: Here are my characters and the situation they are in (and place and time). I need to get them from here to there. Generate a list of potential options that would achieve that.

Usually there is one or two that will spark my imagination. It gets me past the stuck points in plotting faster than cudgeling my brain to come up with an initial list of possible scenarios.

Nov-06 at 10:26

Miked

Purist Furious comment no. 1:

No. Just, NO.

Nov-06 at 11:37

Luluo

I’m mostly now just irritated with myself for using the wrong ‘cue/queue’ in my initial comment :expressionless: Didn’t notice till I was quoted with it! Gotta go back and fix it now, lol.

Nov-06 at 12:04

Miked

Common mistake. Being British helps.

Nov-06 at 12:09

Lmglomar

I find the same. My experience is that it might give me a dozen suggestions of which one or two spark an actual good idea. It’s a bit like bouncing thoughts off someone when I’m stuck – is my buddy going to come up with a brilliant solution? Probably not. But the act of discussing and getting not-so-great ideas helps move toward the right one.

Nov-06 at 13:45

Jacksavage

any time I tinkered with chat gpt i got the same response. Sex and violence arent permitted basically.

Nov-06 at 13:46

Jacksavage

This I can understand.

Nov-06 at 13:47

Lngwstksgk

Yeah. I need a sounding board. Sometimes just having someone repeat back to me what I just said in different words is enough to jog an idea loose.

Nov-06 at 14:08

Lngwstksgk

Yeah I have hit content violation removals before, and I write about a very repressed and tight-laced society.

Nov-06 at 14:08

Dksharman

ChatGPT is useless for fact-checking (so is anything else, because who decides what is fact and what is fiction?)
My grandfather always said, “History is written by the victors and never by the vanquished.”
However, to get what you want to call fact-checking, use Perplexity At least it gives references, so it gives a better ‘FACT’ even if it is one conforming only to the narrative rather than the truth.
https://www.perplexity.ai/

Nov-06 at 21:55

Shotgun

Personally my best sounding board is myself. I like to go for a walk and talk out loud. When people start to look at me like I’m crazy, I know I’m on the right track.

Nov-06 at 22:07
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