Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How Will A.I. Affect the Future of Fiction?

Artificial intelligence pushes us to consider what it means to be a storyteller.

Key points

  • ChatGPT could lead to a lack of originality in both ideas and prose.
  • In the worst-case scenario, A.I. language models could contribute to the devaluation of writing as a profession.
  • ChatGPT pushes us to consider not only what it means to write fiction, but also how our current economic system rewards artists.
Florian Klauer/Unsplash
Source: Florian Klauer/Unsplash

As a medical student in Silicon Valley, I heard many bold pronouncements that artificial intelligence would render many professions—including medicine—obsolete. I had heard the refrain so often that I started tuning out these tech evangelists. I figured that if algorithms ever reached a point at which they were capable of fully replacing physicians, society would have changed so drastically that my personal job security would be the least of my concerns.

But now, not even fiction appears safe from the influence of artificial intelligence. As an avid reader, I had always regarded fiction as an art form at the epitome of self-expression, a medium in which writers could create an entire world to convey to their readers. And yet, the new influx of A.I. chatbots demonstrated that they could ape this feat of human creativity–however badly. A.I.-generated fiction has ignited passionate debates about what it means to be a writer and what these tools may mean for the future of storytelling.

To explore how A.I. chatbots such as ChatGPT may change fiction writing, I turned to Hana Lee, a Silicon Valley software engineer working in artificial intelligence and a debut author (Lee's debut novel, Magebike Courier, is slated for publication by Simon & Schuster in 2024).

One common critique writers have raised is that ChatGPT could lead to a lack of originality in ideas and prose, straddling a fine line that borders on plagiarism.

"ChatGPT works by producing text that is statistically likely to follow the text that came before it," explains Lee. "So if a user participates in collaborative storytelling with ChatGPT, it's possible ChatGPT could respond with ideas or even wholesale phrases provided by other writers, including writers who didn't consent to giving ChatGPT their data."

Suppose writers rely too heavily on AI-generated ideas and plots; we could end up with derivative stories that feel formulaic or unoriginal in both the story's content and the style. If that sounds dystopian, it's already happening. Science-fiction magazines such as Clarkesworld Magazine temporarily stopped accepting new submissions from writers, explaining that it had found too many A.I.-generated works in its inbox. When the publication started for manuscripts again, it came with the warning, "We will not consider any submissions written, developed, or assisted by these tools. Attempting to submit these works may result in being banned from submitting works in the future."

"People are rushing to profit from this technology by using it to create books to self-publish on Amazon and short stories to submit to science fiction and fantasy magazines," says Lee. "None of what they're producing is very good—you need more than a solid concept and a large language model to write a decent story—but the massive glut of new material is drowning out human voices trying to be heard in the publishing community."

Lee clarifies ChatGPT is just one of many technological advances that are altering the landscape of fiction writing. For example, electronic submission systems and indie publishing led to a glut of content of varying qualities. However, these advances also made publishing more accessible, allowing more writers to reach a broader audience. However, Lee notes the same cannot be said of ChatGPT "because it isn't providing access to anything; in fact, it's making it harder for human writers to access the publishing industry by overwhelming editors and forcing them to close their doors."

Ultimately, in the worst-case scenario, A.I. language models could contribute to the devaluation of writing as a profession, especially considering the existing challenges of generating income through fiction.

"It's already very difficult for talented writers to make a living," says Lee, "because a capitalistic society obsessed with profit doesn't place much value on art.

"It takes more than good prose and big ideas for a book to succeed. Runaway successes are, for the most part, either manufactured by publisher investment or a product of luck, like going viral on BookTok. It's especially difficult for marginalized creators who find themselves deprioritized by social media algorithms and treated more harshly by critics than their privileged counterparts. These writers aren't going to see any benefits from A.I.; they're just going to see more seats at the table taken up by machines."

However, Lee also sees the potential of using ChatGPT as a brainstorming tool. According to Lee, "ChatGPT is incapable of producing anything original that it hasn't seen before, but it can still be a conversational partner, a wall to bounce your ideas off of like tennis balls."

Still, Lee has a few warnings for writers interested in incorporating A.I. into their writing workflow. "If you talk to ChatGPT about your story, whether you feed it actual prose or just your ideas, whatever you said can be reviewed by human researchers and/or used as training data for the model."

ChatGPT pushes us to consider not only what it means to write fiction but also how our current economic system rewards such activities. As the Clarkesworld Magazine debacle demonstrates, some writers have been quick to capitalize on the capabilities of generative A.I. without paying heed to the quality of the work being generated and what effects their actions may have on the industry. And where money is involved, there is no guarantee that publishers of written content—from blogs to news articles to books—won't also take advantage of generative A.I. to the detriment of human writers.

Ultimately, the future of fiction will depend on the readers. If we decide to reward our attention and money to cheaply produced, machine-made works with no original thought behind them, then human creativity will suffer. If readers conscientiously decide to reward writers who produce quality pieces of originality, then fiction will continue to thrive and help us to explore the human condition.

More from Yoo Jung Kim, M.D., and Yoo Eun Kim
More from Psychology Today