What Impact Will Generative AI Have On Creative Writing? - Tim Hardie

19 Jun 2023

What Impact Will Generative AI Have On Creative Writers?
One issue that’s really come to prominence within the writing and artistic community in recent months has been the rapid developments in generative AI. The impact of this technological shift is going to be profound across all walks of life, including medicine, teaching and the law. As a writer, I’m going to confine myself to my thoughts on how generative AI (for ease of reference, when I talk about AI in this article I’m referring to generative AI) might affect my career as a fiction author.

I’ll start by making the point that I’m no authority in this field and this is just my personal view. However, just because you’re not an expert in something, that doesn't mean it won’t have a direct impact on your work and livelihood. I’ve done some research into this area and tried to set aside my personal feelings and objectively consider the facts. On social media the debate between proponents and detractors of AI in the creative world of art and literature often becomes very emotional and, frankly, abusive. Any profound societal change is bound to provoke an emotional response. However, once something has been invented it cannot be unlearned. The genie is out of the bottle and generative AI is here to stay. I have no doubt that its capabilities will only expand and I’m sure it won’t be long before much of this blog is out of date.

What is generative AI?

Generative artificial intelligence is a system which is able to generate text, images, or other media in response to prompts. Language models include the Open AI ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing Chat and Google’s Bard. ChatGPT is the one that’s caught the attention of authors, because of the quality of the written material it can produce.

How does it work?

ChatGPT answers questions and prompts using natural language. When producing answers, it uses patterns learned through training, applying algorithms to analyse and understand the meaning of the input and generate a response. ChatGPT uses huge amounts of text data to ‘learn’ how to predict which word comes next in a sentence.

The model takes the input from the question, using the knowledge gained from processing the vast amount of text to give a likelihood of what the input is about. It gives a response that is statistically the most probable next word in the sentence. That means it creates something new each time, using the information it has been trained on.

Where does the data come from?

The AI creators are pretty cagey about this. ChatGPT has been trained on a huge volume of text data that was freely available from the internet prior to September 2021 (ChatGPT3) or mid 2022 (ChatGPT4). Bing and Bard have access to anything that is freely available on the internet (i.e. not behind a paywall). Clearly, just because something can be found on the internet, that doesn’t mean it should be there. Book piracy is a prime example.

How can it be used for novel writing?

The fear among authors is that, with enough skilful input in the initial prompts, AI can write a complete novel in a fraction of the time it would take a human to do so. I’ve used ChatGPT to write an example prologue for me for this article. The prompt was very simple, reflecting the style I chose to use for my The Brotherhood of the Eagle fantasy series. The result is a solid, if unspectacular, piece of writing and you can read it at the foot of this post.

We’re now close to having the AI capabilities to write a competent first draft of a book in minutes. That book won’t be perfect but there’s nothing stopping someone taking that draft and polishing it before releasing it for sale. At the moment, the creation of this initial draft is where the real time-saving benefits can be maximised. A human author simply cannot keep up with this, and that frightens a lot of people. It frightens me.

People have responded to this by saying someone taking an initial AI draft and turning that into a novel isn’t a real writer at all, and they undermine the craft others have taken years to master. I would completely agree when it comes to people who simply take the prompt and publish the initial draft that is churned out. That’s nothing more than producing a cheap commodity. Whilst it might have some entertainment value, the overall quality will not be good and it has no intrinsic artistic merit for reasons I’ll come to later.

The lines are more blurred when someone takes that initial draft and hones it over multiple versions into a better, more rounded and complete story. The skill here comes partly from that initial prompt, where the person may well have done a lot of thinking about the plot, characters and style. If they know how to write, I think it would be possible to write a book that was of better quality, based on that initial draft being reworked and improved. I think I’m quite unusual as an author. My first draft is usually about 80-90% the same as what the final book looks like, and I’m a slow writer as a result of that. However, I think it’s more common for authors to put a very rough first draft together, full of plot holes, narrative gaps and inconsistencies, which they then pull together as they subsequently develop the manuscript.

This is why there’s such a strong emotional reaction to a machine-generated initial draft. It feels like cheating during that initial stage, with unskilled writers taking a short cut to produce inferior content and flood the market. People rightly point to the sci-fi publication Clarkesworld Magazine, which back in February 2023 was forced to temporarily close to story submissions, as their staff were overwhelmed by hundreds of machine-generated stories sent in for publication. There’s no doubt the use of AI presents some very serious practical issues for the creative writing community.

One area that remains grey is the copyright position of any book produced using AI. The law in this area is still developing but in the UK the general principle is only content created by human beings can be protected. For example, the end user can claim copyright for the works they have created through ChatGPT. However, remember that massive dataset on which ChatGPT was trained? What if the output was created using copyrighted material belonging to another person? A pirated book, for example? At the very least this raises some ethical issues, even if proving a copyright infringement would be challenging.

What does all this mean?

Honestly, I think it’s too early to make predictions with any sense of certainty. There are some serious concerns at the moment, though, and I think books written by AI will be released in increasing numbers. We could see books churned out which have been authored by AI, with minimal human input. We may also see more carefully produced books, where the outline AI draft is honed and improved by an author prior to release.

If a slew of AI-created book content floods the market it will make it more difficult for readers to discover the good books amongst the slush pile. Establishing and maintaining visibility with your readership is the most important single factor in achieving writing success. AI content will definitely make that harder.

What about using AI as a writing aid? A lot of the debate around this centers on AI making the task of writing easier, and thus cutting down on the time it takes to release a book to market. Wouldn’t we all love to write more books and be more productive?

This misses an absolutely crucial point, which is for authors the very act of creation is the purpose and the reason why they write. The book is a byproduct of that creativity. If a machine wrote my initial draft a huge part of the pleasure of writing would be lost to me, which is why I won’t be using it as a writing tool.

I write books with various characters, multiple plot lines, and lots of political intrigue, all of which result in plenty of twists and turns along the way. Much of the joy I find in writing is in putting together that initial draft. I start out with a broad plan and a good idea of the characters. However, when I’m writing those interactions between plot and characters always take me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. Those moments of inspiration can be a proper (legal!) high and it provides the creative flow that helps sustain a multi-book series and, crucially, keeps it interesting for both the author and their readers.

I firmly believe this process produces an intrinsically better product than the AI-led or assisted approaches outlined above. If you look at that ChatGPT-produced prologue, The Age of Shadows, it’s very generic. The individual sentences read well enough but it’s a mash-up of language and imagery (lots of eyes and plenty of shadows, I notice) which fantasy readers have seen countless times before. There’s a reason for that – ChatGPT is basing its responses on what it has seen before in that massive dataset.

The author’s voice is what turns the commodity of a book into art. It’s a very difficult thing to describe but when you pick up a book by a good writer, their tone and style are always distinctive. The voice comes from human experience and the author’s outlook on life, and it’s what gives books their meaning. This is what’s missing from the AI output – it has no voice and therefore lacks the crucial ingredient which makes reading the wonderful experience it should be.

Yes, you could take the AI output and improve it, but I’d argue starting from a piece that lacks life is actually more difficult. Putting it bluntly, the only reason you would find the AI route easier to use is if you don’t know how to write. And if that’s the case, you won’t be able to bridge that gap and create something special. Those books will be generic and forgettable.

Looking at this another way, will those AI created/assisted books sell? I’d like to think the reading public will be looking for something better, and that means sticking with the authors who write the best stuff. Am I being over-optimistic? Perhaps, but I don’t think I have a choice. Creative people will create – it’s in their nature.

The AI revolution is going to make it more difficult for creative writers to make their voice heard, find readers and thus earn a meaningful income from their books. Although portrayed as a tool designed to assist writers, it feels a lot more like someone pulling up the ladder and making it much more difficult for a new author to get their foot on that first rung.

Change is inevitable, so how can we respond?
On a practical level, I think there needs to be more transparency. Author should declare whether their books contain content that has been created using AI. Ideally, this should be a legal requirement, although how this could be enforced at a practical level is questionable.

As authors, we have to write the best possible book we can, as that’s what’s going to distinguish us from a rising tide of mediocrity. I also think we owe it to both readers and writers to celebrate and shout out about the books we enjoy. If someone is busy lifting up the ladder, we need to lower another one and help new and established authors flourish. Most of us have been doing this for years anyway, but I’d argue that in the face of the coming AI revolution, it’s never been more important.

Thanks to The Open University Law School for their assistance in producing this article.

About Tim Hardie


Tim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

You can follow him on his different socials:
Twitter / Facebook / Website

You can get his first series, Brotherhood of the Eagle, from the following links:
Hall of Bones / Sundered Souls / Lost Gods

Brotherhood of the Eagle is the first series of Tim Hardie's career

His second series, Tales of Samarak, started with A Quiet Vengeance: Universal link


ChatGPT Prompt: Write me a 1,000 word prologue to a dark fantasy novel with Viking influences

Prologue: The Age of Shadows

In the vast, unforgiving lands of Norheim, where towering mountains pierced the heavens and jagged cliffs overlooked treacherous seas, a shadow fell upon the realm. It was an age of darkness, where malevolence and ancient forces clashed, threatening to engulf all in their path.

In the heart of this brutal landscape, the village of Hrafnheim nestled, its people of hardy stock and unyielding spirit. Hrafnheim stood as a beacon against the encroaching chaos, a bastion of hope and defiance amidst the harsh realities of their existence.

The village was led by Jarl Gunnar, a weathered and battle-scarred chieftain whose wisdom and strength inspired his people. Under his leadership, Hrafnheim had endured countless trials and thrived despite the ever-looming specter of war. Yet, unbeknownst to Gunnar and his people, a gathering storm threatened to shatter their tranquility and plunge them into an abyss of darkness.

The signs were subtle at first, whispered secrets carried by the wind and eerie tales exchanged in hushed tones around flickering hearths. But as time passed, the whispers grew louder, and fear seeped into the hearts of the villagers. Strange creatures prowled the forests, their glowing eyes flickering like embers of an unholy fire. Crops withered, and livestock grew sickly as if a shadow had tainted the very essence of the land.

The seers and wise women of Hrafnheim sought answers in the ancient texts, their hands tracing ancient runes etched in long-forgotten languages. Desperate to stem the encroaching darkness, they invoked long-dormant deities, but their pleas were met with silence. The gods, it seemed, had turned their gaze elsewhere, leaving the mortals to face their destiny alone.

As the weeks turned to months, whispers turned to nightmares. Villagers spoke of a figure draped in darkness, a harbinger of doom who emerged from the mist-shrouded moors only to vanish into the night. Some claimed the figure was a vengeful spirit, while others whispered of a forgotten witch seeking to reclaim her long-lost power. Regardless of the truth, fear had gripped the hearts of the people, their resolve waning with each passing day.

It was during the final days of autumn when the darkness finally breached the village's defenses. The night was heavy with an otherworldly stillness, broken only by the low hooting of an owl perched high in an ancient oak tree. A chilling wind whispered through the skeletal branches, carrying a foreboding message of imminent despair.

From the depths of the shadowed woods, a horde emerged. Savage warriors clad in tarnished armor, their eyes gleaming with an insatiable hunger for bloodshed. Their leader, a towering figure with a mane of silver hair and eyes that burned like frozen fire, bellowed a battle cry that pierced the night sky.

Jarl Gunnar rallied his people, his voice a thunderous roar that echoed across the hills. Warriors emerged from their homes, gripping swords and axes, ready to defend their home and their loved ones. The air was thick with anticipation and the metallic tang of fear as the two forces clashed with a violent ferocity.

The battle raged on, shadows and steel dancing in a deadly symphony. The cries of the fallen mingled with the roars of the victors, an unholy chorus that painted the night in shades of sorrow and triumph. For every fallen warrior of Hrafnheim, a foe met his demise, their bodies strewn across the blood-soaked earth.

But as the moon reached its zenith, a darkness unlike any before descended upon the battlefield. From its heart emerged a figure, draped in a tattered cloak that seemed to drink in the moonlight. His eyes burned with an unholy light, and a cruel smile played upon his lips. With a wave of his hand, the fallen warriors of both sides rose from the earth, their lifeless eyes now consumed by an insatiable hunger for the living.

Hrafnheim's defenders fought valiantly, but they were overwhelmed by the unyielding tide of the undead. Despair settled upon them, their hope dwindling like the dying embers of a fire. Jarl Gunnar, wounded and weary, looked upon his people, the flicker of defiance still burning in his eyes. With his last breath, he uttered a solemn vow to the gods, his voice carried by the winds that whipped through the battlefield.

And so, in the wake of despair, a new chapter in the history of Norheim began. The age of shadows had arrived, and the fate of the land would be decided by those who dared to rise against the encroaching darkness. It was a time for legends to be born and heroes to emerge from the ashes, for the Vikings of Norheim to face their darkest fears and reclaim their world from the clutches of malevolence.

Thus, the stage was set, and the epic tale of Norheim's struggle against the forces of darkness was about to unfold. It was a journey that would test the mettle of warriors, challenge the boundaries of belief, and reveal the indomitable spirit that resides within the hearts of those who refuse to yield.