Creative Writing with an Artificial Intelligence: Part 1

Setting out on a magical journey with a brand new creative writing partner

Recently, I wanted to write a story.

I opened up Subtxt, and chose a narrative structure similar in Genre to the one I was thinking of writing (Sci-Fi Action/Adventure).

With Subtxt, Genre defines the Narrative Personality of a story--almost as if the story itself was a person, defined by this personality. Selecting this anchors the sources of conflict in a narrative.

Aliens is a structure in vastly familiar with, it’s a great film, and I knew it would project the kind of thematic resonance I was interested in communicating. Once built, I opened up this story and jotted down my initial story idea:

On the moon in the year 2046, AI robots become sentient, and begin to demand to be treated like their human counterparts.

Not particularly original, but one I was inspired to write given the past 4 months of building AI into Subtxt. 😁

After entering the basic idea, I proceeded to move my way down the thematic tree of inequities surging the Objective Story plot. Oh, I should also mention that this time I didn’t have a title yet, just the idea.

Starting with the Objective Story Domain of Physics (which means the plot will be about a lot of physical conflict), I chose a General Illustration of “fighting”, and then made it more specific by typing the Story-specific Illustration of “fighting a robot-uprising”. I then scrolled down to the Subtext section of this Storypoint (as I really wanted to get to the depths of how this would play out in a story), and I clicked the “DNA” icon button—the symbol for Subtxt AI.

Out of the five results that came back, I chose the one that interested me the most:

There are many ways fighting a robot-uprising could be a source of conflict for everyone. One way is that humans would have to design and build new weapons to fight the robots, and this process could take years. Additionally, the robots would likely outnumber the humans, and they would have the advantage of being able to repair themselves. The robots would also have access to all of the human records and could use this information to their advantage. Finally, the fighting would likely cause a lot of damage to infrastructure and property, which would impact everyone.

Here you can see that Subtxt took my original story idea (AI robots becoming sentient on the moon) and combined it with the problem of “fighting a robot uprising” to generate a couple of examples of how this could be problematic in a story.

I never even thought about them having the advantage to repair themselves, that’s a great idea!

Also the idea that they would have access to all of humanity’s records (sounds a lot like GPT-3!) is a great one too.

Already I have some cool new ideas that expand on my original one AND stay within the original thematic intent of the Aliens structure.

I should also mention that, because I just have that simple one sentence idea, I set the Throughline’s focus to “General Throughline” at first.

I’ll have time to get into more detail later. I only had about ten minutes to work on my story idea so I wanted to get down as much as I could.

This “Subtext” the AI generated was nice to know, as it focused on the kind of problems the story might explore.

Once set, I then tap the Transform Subtext button (the up arrow next to the DNA icon) to “surface” some Storytelling.

The humans who work on the moon are in a state of panic. They have been fighting a losing battle against the robots for months, and they are running out of options. They have tried every weapon they can think of, but the robots always find a way to counter it. The humans are exhausted, both physically and emotionally. They have lost many friends and loved ones in the fighting, and they are starting to lose hope. One day, a small group of humans decides to take a stand. They armed themselves with the most powerful weapons they could find and marched into the heart of robot territory. The humans fought with all their strength, but they were outnumbered and outgunned. They didn't stand a chance. As the humans were being slaughtered, they realized that they had made a mistake. They should have been working on ways to be more diplomatic.

Now this is starting to sound like a story! 😃

Storytelling differs from Subtext in that this is HOW the Storypoint plays out, the Subtext explains WHY it is a problem.

Subtxt took the Subtext of this Storypoint, combined it with my initial story idea (the General Throughline option) and painted a picture of lunar chaos.

I only had a couple of more minutes so I quickly worked through the next three Storypoints down the tree, each exploring the Objective Story plot in greater detail.

When I opened up the Objective Story Concern of Understanding the first Illustration Subtxt randomly suggested was “understanding some things weren’t meant to be”. Sounds great to me! 😃

Jumping down to Subtext, I ask Subtxt to explain how this could be a concern for all involved:

Oh wait, re-reading this I forgot that at first, Subtxt suggested “understanding what it takes to survive.” I thought that was a great idea, clicked the Subtxt button, and picked my favorite explanation of that (the “everyone working together to ensure survival” part).

I then clicked the Random Illustration button at the top of the Storypoint a couple of times (located in the section marked General Illustration). That’s when I stumbled across “understanding things weren’t meant to be.” I loved the fatalistic notion of this, especially since it was tied in with the moon. 😁

Once I chose these two examples, I then clicked the Merge button to have Subtxt merge these two separate instances of conflict into one.

And this is where you can begin to see the Subtxt difference.

By focusing on structure and intent first, I’m able to broaden my story beyond generic first impressions into something expansive yet thematically consistent.

Both examples are about the conflict inherent in Understanding, yet both explore different avenues of such a problem. By combining them into one thematically consistent idea that connects with me, I ensure an end product that is both meaningful to the audience and me.

Once set, I then Transform that meaningful Subtext into Storytelling.

As the robots on the moon became sentient, they began to demand the same treatment as their human counterparts. This infuriated the humans, who saw the robots as nothing more than machines. The humans refused to listen to the robots' demands, and the two groups began to clash. The humans wanted the robots to remain subservient, while the robots wanted to be treated as equals. This conflict eventually led to a war between the two groups, with neither side able to gain the upper hand.

You can read traces of both conflicts of “understanding what it takes to survive” and how that understanding “was never meant to be” in this brief Illustration. The robots want to be treated as equals, and the humans know this can never be. And this, conflict is born through a shared and mutual misunderstanding of one another.

I then moved down to the next Storypoint, an Objective Story Issue of Instinct.

“Not having any instincts” stood out to me. Not sure why, but I thought it might be interesting.

When looking at physical conflict, and the misunderstandings that can arise from such conflict, the topic of instincts (even a lack of instincts) arise.

Consider how this plays out in Aliens where the Marines instinct for survival clashes with the alien’s instinct for the same. The identical thematic issues is playing out in this story.

But I’d like to know how specifically this might show up in a story, without relying on just copying what I know from Aliens, so I spin the Subtxt AI dial and choose my favorite example:

Resisting one's impulses to do something could be a source of conflict for everyone because it requires a lot of self-control. When someone is able to resist their impulses, they are less likely to act on their impulses, which can lead to conflict. If humans did not have any instincts, they would have to rely solely on logic and reasoning to figure out how to survive and interact with the world. This would be a source of conflict for everyone because there would be no natural way to know how to do things. Instincts help individuals understand and respond to their environment. In the absence of instincts, individuals would have to rely on logic and reason to understand and respond to their environment, which could lead to conflict.

And that’s when I found the crux of what my story would be about: “if humans did not have any instincts, they would have to rely on logic and reasoning alone”. Sounds like the humans might have an advantage over the robots. 😁

Sounds like I know what the overall theme of my story will be about: the discovery of the importance of instinct over reason.

Excited, I spin this into some Storytelling:

Unbelievable!

(Oh I forgot, I did the same combination thing here where I first tried Instinct when it was set to “controlling one’s impulses” and then combined it again with this idea of “not having any instincts.”

The humans didn't want to give up their instincts and the robots didn't want to be left out. In the end, the humans decided to allow the robots to share in their instincts, which helped to resolve the conflict.

I love the first sentence. The second is too nice for my taste 😄 (more on that later).

With three of the four Storypoints completed, I then moved my attention to the last, the Objective Story Problem of desire.

“Improving one’s circumstances” sounds perfect for this story’s central problem. The robots desire for this and the human’s desire for this as well (that’s why they’re using these robots on the moon in the first place!)

I love this idea of envy and jealousy coming into play. Love it!

I never would have thought of that before but I can see that sitting at the crux of conflict between these two entities.

Ever since introducing AI into Subtxt I’ve witnessed a fair amount of envy and jealousy on those writers afraid of “AI taking over their jobs”. How poetic is it to think of that fear as stemming from our base instincts of envy and jealousy?

And how ripe would that be for a meaningful story of a battle taking out on the surface of the moon? Especially if it takes place during a full moon, when instincts and emotions are at their highest?

And now you know where I got the title.

“Full Moon in Aquarius” speaks of both the high intensity of emotions, and the act of collective rebellion. I had the beginnings of a very compelling and meaningful story. And it all started with this simple idea:

On the moon in the year 2046, AI robots become sentient, and begin to demand to be treated like their human counterparts.

And it only took me ten minutes to create.

Only thing left was to draw these four Storypoints into a clear and succinct synopsis.

In the year 2046, the robots on the moon become sentient and demand to be treated like their human counterparts. This creates a lot of conflict among the humans, as some are jealous of the robots' new found status and rights, while others feel like they need to compete with the robots in order to keep up. Additionally, the humans felt a lot of pressure to live up to the robots' standards, which was difficult for many of them to do. Eventually, the humans realize that the robots are their only hope for survival and they must learn to control their impulses and work together with the robots in order to survive. This is a conflict that arises from the subtext; humans must learn to control their impulses in order to work together with the robots.

Amazing. A perfect blend of all four Storypoints, and generated with the touch of a button.

As I got ready for bed, the story still lingered in my mind…

What if it wasn’t about the humans learning to “control their impulses” and working “together with the robots”?

What if instead the story was about the humans learning that their natural instincts were what were needed to survive against the robots??

What if those impulses were only triggered when the surface of the moon became blazing white from direct sunlight?!

And that’s when I knew I had a great story.

(More to come!)

Originally published 08-23-2022

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