Can AI Write a Story?

updated on 19 May 2021


A story is observation transformed with imagination. 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 and build communities.

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. The best storytellers have a distinct relationship with words. If you read Hemingway, you know its Hemingway.


In a brain, neurons communicate with other neurons through firing of synapses that are triggered by senses.

AI mimics the way the brain works. Think of a neuron as a logic gate. The logic gate receives an input and decides to either fire or not. Imagine the logic gate recieves 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. AI is mathematical at heart. Or can it? How much of story is pattern and structure? Can writing a story be more algorithmic than we want to accept?

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, ethical sense, understand the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. AI needs to not just choose words and sentences but also capture its essence. 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 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 does not 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...

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