AI explorations with a side of caramel-chocolate pudding
June 26, 2024

AI explorations with a side of caramel-chocolate pudding

I love writing, but it can be exhausting. So many decisions need to be made every day. Who should be the lead of the new book? A naive young plumber who is called in to fix a toilet in the White House only to be set up to take the fall for the assassination of a South American dictator? Or maybe he’s an ordinary high school music teacher who is kidnapped by thugs hired by a South American dictator for whom he’s a dead ringer, and they make him stand in for the dictator, who is being stalked by a naive young plumber sent by the CIA to kill him. Or maybe he’s a hip yet naive young songwriter on vacation in the American Southwest when, on a remote stretch of highway, he comes across a plumber whose truck has broken down, so he gives the plumber a lift, but the plumber is in fact a vicious alien shapechanger who ate the real plumber and is trying to get to the White House to kill a visiting dictator as a first step toward taking over a South American country and then the world.

Even once you have a cast, the decisions are not over. They have just begun. You could open a sentence with the character’s name, Verne, or you could give the reader a scrap of description first, such as “Even though he was a naive young plumber, Verne had written a terrific song about a South American dictator.” It is not an easy decision. Then thousands of times in one book, you have to decide whether to use a semicolon or break the line into two sentences. Colon or 1/m dash? Comma or no comma? Is the word capitalized or lower case? What brand of toothpaste would a shape-changing alien plumber be likely to use? Really, it never ends.

At the end of the work day, you just want to play a game of chess with the dog and eat a lot of chocolate-caramel pudding. But you’re so tired you repeatedly fall asleep in the pudding, until the dog becomes disgusted and goes away to play a video game by herself or goes down to the tavern for a few beers.

That’s why I decided to collaborate with an AI that had a deep background in literature and creative writing. I began by asking for some exciting openings that established an intriguing story premise. Here was it’s first:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was here and there and everywhere, and of course it was confused.

I appreciated the reference to the opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, a nice literary device, but I failed to grasp the story idea. Entirely my fault.

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Because the matter was settled, Scrooge bought a Turkey and took it to Bob Cratchit’s house, only to discover that Tiny Tim and the entire family had been slaughtered by a time-traveling serial killer from 2025 Los Angeles.

I suggested that, though Charles Dickens was brilliant, we seek inspiration elsewhere.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, still in my office with no company but a bottle of bourbon and a lifetime of regrets, she came in without knocking. A gumshoe like me doesn’t get clients like her except in dreams. Tall, blond, with that bovine ripeness that makes a man want to be a bull, she was wearing a diamond tiara that would have motivated an envious English queen to put out a hit on her.

When I find the right path to a brave new future with AI, I will let you know in this newsletter. Meanwhile, this is the time for summer reading, whether you’re spending time on the beach or sky-diving into volcanoes. Although I’ve written nothing yet with an AI, I humbly recommend my latest novel, The Bad Weather Friend or the recent The House at the End of the World. Now I’m going to have some caramel-chocolate pudding.

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