The Push-Button Paradox: Why True Storytelling Demands More

Unveiling the hollow promise of automated storytelling

In a world swiftly veering towards automated solutions, a new breed of writing applications promises to make storytelling as easy as pushing a button. Recently, I stumbled upon a YouTube video glorifying an AI writing app, claiming it to be the magic wand every writer has been yearning for. However, as I delved deeper, I realized it was nothing but a mirage.

These recent generative text applications, leveraging the prowess of AI, often feature a "Generate" or "Scriptify" button that, when clicked, churns out chunks of narrative. The idea is tantalizing—push a button, and voila, you have a story! But here lies the deception. This push-button storytelling may mimic the superficial aspect of a narrative, but it misses the heart and soul—the subtext.

Subtext is everything

Subtext is the undercurrent, the emotional resonance, the unspoken but felt essence of a story. A good story isn't just about the events that unfold, but the deeper meanings they evoke. Push-button storytelling, powered by language models, may craft human-like text, but it fails to capture this underlying essence. Even skilled and seasoned writers can occasionally miss hitting this mark; when they do, it’s magic, but it’s a rare feat. If a language model is trained on these rare feats, it’s bound to reproduce mediocrity, not magic. The odds that will hit that rare combination of words that somehow evokes something meaningful? Definitely not in our favor.

The emergent properties of large-language models

The irony is, these AI models have a treasure trove of potential, manifesting in what are called their emergent properties. These properties are not well understood, even by the creators of these models. Yet, they exist and hold the key to creating compelling narratives.

The Algorithmic Bridge explains that even those who build these systems will be superseded by them:

In [Richard] Sutton’s view, humans have contributed little to the best AI systems we’ve built: We’ve become background characters to this show of artificial phenomena that succeeds not because of us (sometimes even despite us and our sense of self-importance), rather than the intelligent architects of the future we thought we’d be. He didn’t claim humans are entirely irrelevant...He meant that once more computation is available, one unit of this mystical power is worth more to increase the performance of an AI system on a given task than one unit of human knowledge (whatever that means).

The push-button interface is one unit of human knowledge. The magic of these systems can only go so far--stifled by an interface that resembles a mouse caught in a maze, looking for cheese. A chatbot-like environment is the basis for one unit of the AI's true mystical power. Here, the latent possibilities can unfurl organically, much like the dialog between a writer and their muse.

Evolving with artificial intelligence

Push-button storytelling is akin to being handed a template, with little room for deviation. Your narrative is enslaved to the contours of this template, limiting its potential. When I developed Subtxt, I initially incorporated a push-button feature. It's a helpful starting point, especially for novices. Yet, it's the story development chatbot, Muse, within Subtxt that unleashes the real magic. It transcends the rigid boundaries of templates, opening up a world of probabilistic opportunities for narrative evolution.

Pairing a language learning model with a push-button interface is like putting a jet engine on a tricycle. It's an underutilization of a potent resource. No matter how sophisticated the model, if it's wedded to a push-button, the stories generated will lack the depth, the subtext, that makes a narrative resonate with readers on a human level.

The next time you come across an app promising to generate stories at a push of a button, remember, storytelling is an art, a journey of exploring the unexplored. And no single button can traverse that expanse for you.

Download the FREE e-book Never Trust a Hero

Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.