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AI: Your Perfect Plotting Partner?

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Being an indie author is a lot of work. Until we hit the best-seller lists, we’re often forced to wear an entire haberdashery’s worth of hats. We’re constantly researching new ideas, making outlines, finding beta readers or critique partners, and crafting clever synopses, back cover copy, author bios, and so much more. And that’s all on top of writing and revising our books! 

What if there were a way to cut down on some of the extra writing tasks?

Enter artificial intelligence—specifically, text-based generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT, Jasper.ai, and Sudowrite, as well as generative art models like Midjourney and DALL-E. Once you learn what AI tools can do, you might find yourself reaching for them as often as you use spell-check.

But wait, you say, isn’t using AI cheating or unethical? Won’t it obliterate writing jobs, doom academic research, and flood Amazon and slush piles with garbage? 

These are valid concerns. With hundreds of millions of people trying out chat AI tools—Time points out that ChatGPT may be the fastest growing “app” of all time—it’s hard to grapple with how quickly things are changing, and there are some valid concerns with the technology as it rolls out so quickly. Although some people are abusing AI technology, it can also be a valuable tool when used responsibly. And though it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for our own writing, it can help authors get through the grind of annoying tasks and inspire new ideas. 

Let’s look at just a handful of the ways you can use generative AI as your next writing partner. 

Breaking free of the blank screen

As writers, we all know how difficult it can be to start a new project. That blank screen can be super intimidating. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you can use generative AI to help you get started. 

Putting it into practice: Try telling a text-based AI something about the project you’re starting. You can share a brief or story concept, themes, or anything else you have, and ask the AI to expand the idea. Sometimes typing a prompt into your AI program of choice can be enough to get the creative juices flowing. But if not, ask the AI some questions. Prod it to tell you something interesting about your protagonist, or have it write a paragraph on your article topic. You’re not obligated to use any of the AI’s responses, but sometimes just seeing your ideas expanded into a longer piece is enough to get you started. 

You can also use ChatGPT or Jasper.ai to generate writing prompts based on specific criteria such as genre, theme, or topic, which can help you tailor your ideas to a specific project. 

Crafting outlines and titles

When you’re getting started, outlining can be an important part of your writing process. Generative AI can outline plot points or the main arguments of an article, so you can get started with writing faster. And when you’re ready for a title, you can tell the AI something about your story, book, or article, and ask it to come up with a selection of titles.

Putting it into practice: Tell the AI to create an outline for a short story, article, book, and give it a rough word count and a paragraph that describes your project. If it’s fiction, describe the genre and provide your concept or synopsis, including the main plot points or theme. If it’s nonfiction, provide your introduction or basic concepts. You can follow the same steps for titles, telling the AI to generate five to ten titles using the information you provide. If you’re looking for humor or puns, or need the title to conform to certain styles or word counts, you can include that in your query as well.

Brainstorming

Generative AI platforms can help writers brainstorm and come up with new ideas for a work in progress or get past difficult plot points. 

The AI can provide insight into how characters might grow and change throughout the course of the story, and how their experiences might shape their ultimate fate. By considering the unique strengths and weaknesses of the character, ChatGPT can suggest scenarios in which their skills might come in handy and offer advice on how to maximize their potential for success. Meanwhile, if you’re working on a nonfiction article or book and have sections that feel too light, you can use AI to figure out additional talking points to include or research that you need to add.

Putting it into practice: Give the AI a brief character sketch and then ask how your character might respond if a certain situation were to happen. The more details you provide, the better the response will be, and you can tweak the results by giving the AI further details. Another fun way to use the AI would be to give it your main characters and plot points, sometimes over the course of a few queries, and ask it to tell you your story from different points of view or in different genres. 

For nonfiction, provide your introduction and a brief description of the ideas you have so far, and ask the AI to help you figure out if you’re missing anything.

Visual inspiration

Chat AI is great for lots of writing tasks, but you might give generative art AI tools like Midjourney a whirl for characters and settings. Many authors have used Google to “cast” their novels with either stock photography or celebrities standing in for their fictional characters, but now you can tailor the output to truly match what’s in your head. With a bit of practice using the prompts, you can generate images that serve as models for your characters, and you can also generate houses, cityscapes, or entire fantasy worlds. AI tools are worth their weight in gold if you need images of things like monsters, robots, faeries, or aliens that exist nowhere other than your own imagination. Best of all, you can give Midjourney a starter image hosted on the Internet, and it can use it as the basis for its next creation.

Putting it into practice: Using Midjourney, try a prompt in which you describe your protagonist, including physical attributes, clothing style, expression or mood, and setting. You can also specify if you want the image to be photorealistic or if you would prefer a cartoon image, a painting, and even a particular style of artwork.
If you need help getting started with Midjourney or want to learn more about prompts, you can start with the platform’s Quick Start guide at https://docs.midjourney.com/docs/quick-start.

Marketing tasks

As an author, you’re likely constantly producing things like press releases, biographical statements, acknowledgments, ad copy, social media posts, and other content that requires a specific tone and writing style, and perhaps even a precise word count. Once again, ChatGPT and other AI options can save you a lot of frustration.You can also ask the AI for a list of comparative titles—books similar to yours in terms of plot, characters or themes—and you can use generative art AI tools to create images for social media. 

Putting it into practice: Planning a big book launch and need to share the information with local media and on your social accounts? Give the AI your author bio, your book synopsis, and your book launch party details. From there, you can ask the AI to turn it into a press release, a series of Instagram posts, or whatever content you need. You can even ask it to create a list of daily or weekly posts for different platforms within a date range. Then you can go over to Midjourney, which can be easier to use for many people, and generate images for your Instagram and Facebook posts. 

How to use AI responsibly

Once you discover how easy some things can be when you use generative AI, you might start feeling a bit reckless. It’s so tempting to have your new AI buddy do all the heavy lifting. But it’s important that you don’t sit back and let the AI dig all of your writing ditches. 

First, we don’t know exactly how the companies behind the AI tools use your data, though privacy advocates suggest the data could be used to further train the AI, and recommend that you never share with the AI anything that could compromise you, your business, or another company such as your employer. It’s not likely to “steal” your novel or book idea, but you still need to be cautious about sharing private data.
Second, the output from the AI is truly only as good as what you tell it. If you don’t share much information about your topic or project, you will only get back information from its learning model or database, which could be biased, inaccurate, or misleading. AI writing tools are most effective when you teach them something new or provide information to analyze or build upon.

When it comes to generative art tools, some people have been creating cover and interior artwork using AI. Guidelines for image licensing and use are always subject to change as AI evolves and grows. Be sure you’re clear on copyright laws and the latest legal decisions surrounding AI art before you hit publish.

Finally, always double-check your AI’s work. Compare its output to your original sources, and don’t use anything it generated on the fly without fact-checking it. Re-read everything it spits out, and tweak and revise to better fit your style and tone. 

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