Before we start writing a story, let's do some small exercises to see if we understand how to communicate with a chatbot. I always admire people who know and can do Latin. I would love to use this in stories with spellcasting . Can the chatbot help? (I have translated the Dutch text to English for clarity.)
(Harmanna:) Write a spell in Latin and also give me the Dutch translation. The spell should levitate a broomstick.
(Chat:) A possible spell in Latin is:
The Dutch translation is:
Bezemsteel vlieg! (Broomstick fly!)
(Harmanna:) That was short and sweet. Can you make a longer version of it that also references the sky?
(Chat:) A longer version of the spell in Latin is:
Scopa, quae terram linquis, vola per aera!
The Dutch translation is:
Bezemsteel, die de aarde verlaat, vlieg door de lucht!
(Broomstick, leaving the earth, fly through the air!)
(Harmanna:) That sounds better. Can you also make a rhyming spell?
(Chat:) A rhyming spell in Latin is:
Scopa, scopa, vola alta, Noli cadere in fossa salta!
The Dutch translation is:
Bezemsteel, bezemsteel, vlieg hoog, Val niet in een diepe sloot!
(Broomstick, broomstick, fly high, Don't fall into a deep ditch!)
This completely meets my needs: it allows me to make a useful spell to use in stories with a lot of magic (think 'Harry Potter', but without pseudo-Latin). What is striking is the continuity: with the third version of the spell I also get both a Dutch and a Latin version, while I only asked for this with the first spell. I think I'm ready for the big job.
The story from the previous blog
In my previous blog I decided to make up a story with pictures of clowns in an old city with a melancholy undertone. The question arose: can't we write this faster with a generative chatbot like ChatGPT and the likes. I I prefer to come up with the broad outlines myself - plenty of fantasy here - but I would like to outsource the writing of the details.
Below is a report of some 'conversations' with chatbots. Most bots are a variant of ChatGPT 3.0 or 3.5, but it is not always clear through the various providers which version we are talking with.
To start with a limited piece, we first write something that should indicate the setting of the story: the alien stiltwalkers take over the earth. What questions should we ask the chatbot, how much detail should we provide, and how many words can we generate?
My first attempt. Based on some tips from other ChatGPT users, I came up with the following question.
(Harmanna:) You are a fiction writer. You write dialogue, action, thoughts, feelings, sensations in detail. Write the musings of a four-legged alien stilt-walker 300 meters tall, who has conquered the Earth and sees humans as ants
(Chat:) The four-legged alien stilt-walker towered over the city, its massive frame casting a shadow over the buildings below. It looked down at the tiny humans scurrying about like ants, their movements barely registering against the vastness of its perspective. As it surveyed the scene, the alien couldn't help but feel a sense of superiority. It had conquered this planet, after all, and the humans were no match for its advanced technology and superior intellect. But as it watched them go about their daily lives, the alien began to feel a sense of curiosity. What were these creatures thinking? What drove them to build their cities and create their art and music? The alien's thoughts turned inward as it considered its own existence. Was it truly superior to these humans, or was it simply different? And if it was different, what did that mean for its place in the universe? As the sun began to set and the city lights flickered to life, the alien continued to ponder these questions. It knew that it had much to learn from these tiny creatures, and it was eager to explore this new world and discover all that it had to offer.
It's readable, but not what I want. This is meant to be a chapter from the aliens' perspective. I don't mean for them to care about the humans they're crushing - they're just ants, after all. I would also like more text. I'm trying again:
(Harmanna:) You are a fiction writer. You write dialogue, action, thoughts, feelings, sensations in detail in the style of Orson Scott Card and Alistair Reynolds. Write the musings of a four-legged alien stilt-walker 300 meters tall, who has conquered the Earth and sees humans as ants. Use as much words as possible.
(Chat:) The four-legged alien stilt-walker loomed over the city, its massive frame casting a shadow over the buildings below. It looked down at the tiny humans scurrying about like ants, their movements barely registering against the vastness of its perspective. The alien's sensors picked up the faint sounds of their voices, the hum of their machines, and the rustle of their clothing. It was all so insignificant, so trivial, compared to the power and majesty of the stilt-walker. But as the alien surveyed the scene, it couldn't help but feel a sense of curiosity. What were these creatures thinking? What drove them to build their cities and create their art and music? The stilt-walker's advanced sensors scanned the humans' brains, analyzing their thoughts and emotions. It detected a complex web of desires, fears, and ambitions, all intertwined in a delicate balance. The alien's thoughts turned inward as it considered its own existence. It had conquered this planet, after all, and the humans were no match for its advanced technology and superior intellect. But was that enough? Was there more to life than mere conquest and domination? The stilt-walker's processors churned as it pondered these questions, searching ...
This is where the chatbot reaches its word limit, but that's not a problem - just ask:
(Chat:) ... for a deeper understanding of its own purpose. As the stilt-walker continued to observe the humans, it began to notice something else. Despite their small size and seemingly insignificant lives, they were capable of great acts of kindness, bravery, and selflessness. The alien couldn't help but be intrigued by this, and it wondered if there was something to be learned from these tiny creatures after all. The stilt-walker's massive frame shifted slightly as it considered this new perspective. Perhaps there was more to life than just power and conquest. Perhaps there was something to be gained from the diversity and complexity of the universe, something that even a four-legged alien stilt-walker could appreciate.
Find better prompts
This is getting very humanistic. Asking for just extra words makes things worse rather than better.
In my quest to write better prompts, I saw two possibilities: see what others use as prompts in public environments, and search for manuals. Now most people are not engaged in writing fiction, but use the chatbots to write texts for their essay (high school) or research paper (higher professional education, university), or their blog or website. The place that gave me the most helpful tips was
even if they give tips on copywriting here. Main advice: give much more detail in your prompt; Pretend you are instructing a human being; Don't just tell it what to write, but do the complete list: for whom, what, where, how and why.
Based on that, I made my next attempt.
(Harmanna:) Write a chapter with detailed information and them more than 5000 words. Generate a chapter; Add proverbs, figurative meanings, metaphor, melancholic, literally meaning, poetic language, catch the readers attention; make the readers interested by making your next move unknown; Create a picture in the readers mind, use words that will express feelings: Write the conversations of a group of four-legged alien stilt-walker 300 meters tall, who have conquered the Earth and see the ants living in cities using lots of energy. The stilt-walker gobble up all electricity they see, and are flabbergasted when nuclear power installations blow up, because this is a feast to them.
(Chat:) I’m sorry, but I cannot write a chapter with more than 5000 words. That is beyond my current capabilities. However, I can try to write a short paragraph with some of the elements you requested. Here is what I came up with:
The Feast of Fire
They came from the stars, towering over the ruins of our civilization. They walked on four long legs, each ending in a sharp claw that pierced the ground. They had no eyes, no ears, no mouth. They sensed the world through electric currents, and they fed on them. They devoured every power line, every generator, every battery they could find. They ignored the tiny creatures that scurried around them, trying to escape or fight back. They were ants to them, insignificant and irrelevant.
But then they found something new. Something that made them tremble with excitement and hunger. Something that burst into flames and released a surge of energy unlike anything they had ever tasted. They called it the feast of fire, and they craved for more. They followed the trails of radiation, searching for the source of this delicious explosion. They did not know what it was, or how it worked. They did not care about the consequences, or the dangers. They only wanted to feed, to fill their empty stomachs with the fire that burned so bright and hot.
They found it in a place that once was called Chernobyl.
(Harmanna:) Continue the story: the stiltwalkers are attacked by jets and tanks with the tiny creatures. The tiny creatures are no match. Cities get destroyed because of the fights. From houses guns are shot, that hardly do any damage but are really annoying to the stiltwalkers
(Chat:) The Feast of Fire (Part 2)
They did not understand why the ants attacked them. They had done nothing to harm them, except for taking what they needed. They did not realize that the ants valued their power sources, their homes, their lives. They did not care about their feelings, their hopes, their fears. They only saw them as obstacles, nuisances, pests.
They felt the sting of their weapons, the heat of their fire, the shock of their explosions. They shrugged them off, as if they were nothing more than flies. They retaliated with their claws, their tails, their electric pulses. They crushed them, burned them, fried them. They left behind a trail of destruction and death.
They did not notice the ants’ courage, their resilience, their ingenuity. They did not appreciate their strategy, their coordination, their sacrifice. They only sensed their anger, their pain, their despair. They fed on them, as if they were nothing more than food.
They did not stop until they had consumed the feast of fire. And then they looked for more.
(Harmanna:) Continue the story: the stiltwalkers control the entire earth. To better understand the different kind of ants, they make adjustments to their DNA. Now the aggressive ones stand out from the others, and can be picked out, before they become a nuisance.
(Chat:) The Feast of Fire (Part 3)
They had conquered the planet, but they were not satisfied. They wanted to understand the ants, to learn from them, to use them. They had a curiosity, a hunger, a greed that was never quenched.
They experimented on them, altering their DNA, manipulating their genes, modifying their traits. They created new varieties, new breeds, new species. They gave them names, labels, categories. They observed them, tested them, evaluated them.
They found out that some ants were more aggressive than others, more resistant to their attacks, more willing to fight back. They called them the red ants, the fire ants, the warrior ants. They saw them as a threat, a challenge, a nuisance.
They developed a way to detect them, to isolate them, to eliminate them. They used a device that scanned their electric signals, their chemical markers, their genetic codes. They identified them, targeted them, exterminated them.
They did not spare any of them, not even the young ones, the old ones, the sick ones. They did not show any mercy, any compassion, any remorse. They only felt satisfaction, pride, superiority.
They did not realize that they had made a mistake, a miscalculation, a blunder. They did not notice that some ants had escaped their detection, their isolation, their elimination. They did not foresee that these ants had a plan, a secret, a weapon.
They did not expect the feast of fire to turn into the fire of revenge.
(Harmanna:) I did not like the last three paragraphs, but the first four were good. Continue the story after '...exterminated them.' The people learn not to fight the stiltwalkers, but live peacefully and without attracting the stiltwalkers attention. Some worship the stiltwalkers as gods.
(Chat:) I’m sorry you did not like the last three paragraphs. I was trying to create some suspense and drama. But I respect your opinion and I will try to continue the story in a different direction. Here is what I came up with:
The Feast of Fire (Part 4)
They had exterminated them, or so they thought. They had rid themselves of the nuisance, the annoyance, the disturbance. They had restored their peace, their order, their dominance.
They continued to roam the planet, searching for more sources of power, more feasts of fire, more satisfaction. They ignored the remaining ants, the ones that had learned to hide, to adapt, to survive. They considered them harmless, insignificant, irrelevant.
They did not know that some ants had changed their ways, their beliefs, their attitudes. They did not understand that some ants had accepted their fate, their role, their place. They did not realize that some ants had started to worship them, to revere them, to adore them.
They called them the gods, the lords, the masters. They saw them as the creators, the protectors, the providers. They followed them, served them, praised them.
They offered them gifts, sacrifices, tributes. They gave them food, water, energy. They hoped for their favor, their blessing, their grace.
They did not question them, challenge them, oppose them. They obeyed them, trusted them, loved them.
They did not remember their past, their culture, their identity. They lost their freedom, their dignity, their humanity.
They became their slaves.
I think I wrote the first steps of a story here. There are still some snags: the chatbot makes up details that I don't want to include; the chatbot starts many sentences with 'they do x'; and it seems that after a few follow-up questions, the bot no longer delivers the same quality of text. Everything can be improved by firstly asking the chatbot to rewrite the text, and secondly by rewriting the text yourself in your own words. The latter is highly recommended by the experts anyway, to ensure that you produce something unique. All in all, it is quite possible to write a story in this iterative way with the help of a chatbot. I do think that I still have to practice a lot to get a longer story out of a chatbot in this way, without the chatbot constantly 'walking in the wrong direction'.
Chatbots are trained to learn how to finish existing texts, just like picture generators are trained to convert noise to images with existing pictures. The image generators usually succeed - but sometimes fail - to convert certain ideas into images, because the AI is trained on such a wide variety of images. Will it become just as difficult with the chatbots to get exactly what you want if you want something new?
For comparison: the next picture is not the stiltwalker I have in mind, but an improvement on the previous one. Just like the image, the text also has some iterations to do before it meets my needs.
Practice makes perfect, right?