Can AI Write a Story?

updated on 11 July 2022


Stories are at the core of all art. Paintings tell stories, music tells stories. Stories express the human spirit. Stories aim to get at the ineffable, at the struggle of what it means to be human. Stories pass on learning.

Words in a story are inert. Until the reader reads. Reading transforms words into people, sounds, colors, and smells.

A good story is fresh, valuable, something unexpected.


Neurons communicate with other neurons through firing of synapses that are triggered by senses.

An artificial neuron is a logic gate. The logic gate receives an input and decides to either fire or not. Imagine the logic gate receives three numbers x1, x2, and x3, as input. Perhaps, x1 is three times as important as x2 and x3. The logic gate calculates 3x1 + x2 + x3. If this value falls above a certain threshold, it fires.

Artificial neural networks are layers of artificial neurons arranged to trigger an output that leads to a conclusion.

Learning is changing the weights on the input, if the neural network gets the answer wrong, it tweaks the weights. For example, x3 might be more important than x2. The neuron changes the equation to 3x1 + x2 + 2x3.

AI learns from examples. The more examples it sees, the more refined it becomes.

AI = storyteller?

Intuition and imagination make a good storyteller. More than just language skills, it requires creativity and critical thinking. Surely, AI can't write a story. Or can it? How much of story is pattern and structure? Can writing a story be more algorithmic than we want to accept?

It feels like every Pixar movie has the same narrative structure:

  1. Once upon a time......
  2. Everyday......
  3. One day......
  4. Because of that......
  5. Because of that......
  6. Until finally......

AI can come up with a sentence that's never been written before. It can keep coming up with sentences to keep the writing going. But does that mean it can weave the sentences into a coherent story?

The complexities of writing a story are so great and the background knowledge of the world required so extensive, it's impossible to conceive that AI can write a story.

AI needs to develop a moral sense, an ethical sense, and also understand the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. AI needs to write stories that perplex us, repel us, but persuade us of their value. We are a very long way away from that. But the time to start collaborating with AI is now.

With GPT-3, AI is now a creative assistant that augments your abilities. It can even take the place of a muse, inspiring you with unusual ideas.

Never say never

AI learns from failures and comes up with results that shock even its creators.

AI has beaten the world number one in Chess, Go, and Jeopardy. Don't these games require creativity? Like writing a story? AI fails, fails again, fails better, and then wins.

A glimpse into the future

Can AI use an outline to write a story? Is following an outline incompatible with creative writing? The fact that a writer might not be able to say where their story came from doesn't mean they followed no rules.

Answer these questions:

  1. Describe a world where you want to set your story in?
  2. Enter a question that you want to answer. Pick one that's morally ambiguous.
  3. Who's the central character? What's their goal? What obstacles are in their way?
  4. Who are the other characters? What motivates each one? What are their objectives? How are they connected with each other?
  5. Choose the genre. Thriller? Romance?
  6. Throw in some humor? Yes / No.

AI writes the story...

Research into AI storytelling

Rafael Perez y Perez created an AI model called MEXICA that generates high-level plots. 

MEXICA is trained with a bunch of short cultural stories from Mexico. Perez provides MEXICA a description of each character and all the actions that they can perform. Plus information about the emotional links, tensions, and conflicts between the characters. 

The short stories build up the system’s knowledge base into which Perez then inserts an initial action to trigger a plot. Here the plot is not generated by any template. Instead, it springs from the emotional links and conflicts between the characters. Once we have a plot, the next step is to turn them into stories. 

MEXICA is integrated with NN Narrator, a system that converts  plots into stories. NN Narrator can narrate the story from the standpoints of different characters. 

Here’s an example of story created by MEXICA and NN Narrator: 

The jaguar knight, um, starts, er, to rival the hunter. The jaguar knight, um, opposes the hunter. Meanwhile, the hunter starts to rival the jaguar knight. The hunter opposes the jaguar knight. Then, the jaguar knight starts to feint the hunter. The jaguar knight, um, feints at the hunter. Then, the jaguar knight starts to injure himself. The jaguar knight strikes himself.

MEXICA and NN Narrator don't actually mimic the way fiction writers and other storytellers create a story, which happens mainly through revising and reimagining, but it's a start.

Read more