The clever cat is reading fairy tales for kittens. Kittens listen to him carefully.

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Artificial Intelligence has begun to migrate into fiction. Neil Clarke shut down submissions to Clarkesworld this week because AI stories flooded his submission system. Probably from writers hoping for a quick buck without a lot of effort.

This is particularly problematic for science fiction and fantasy magazines. Over the years, magazine reading has dropped—I’ve seen it recently as magazines drop off the stands. A food magazine I always picked up because it had well-researched articles and more unusual recipes decided to go online exclusively. Once they did that, the well-researched articles disappeared, I subscribed for a year, but it wasn’t hard to tell that they weren’t going to survive. Late last year, they announced they were folding.

Fiction’s had it worse. The pulps are gone. Some magazines pay professional rates. Except for two in mystery, the rest are science fiction and fantasy. So they are targets for people hoping to score with AI-generated fiction.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch hit on this new development:

That’s how I’ve been thinking about the AI writing algorithms. I’ve also been shaking my head at the dumbass writers who continually say they like the AI writing tool to help them plot. Those writers simply do not understand how fiction writing works. Plot comes from depth, by going deep into characters as individuals (real living people…who just happen to be fictional). If you approach plot as an exercise, something separate from the story creation done by your own fingers at your own computer, then you haven’t learned your craft yet, and no AI writing tool is going to help you.

Dean Wesley Smith talks about the Stages of a Fiction Writer. At the first and second levels, the writers fixate on plot as being The Most Important Thing.

They also don’t understand what it is.

We see it show up in conversations like:

  • Are you character-focused or plot-focused?
  • Are you a pantser or a plotter? (I always find this question insulting. The question implies that a pantser doesn’t have plot).

Let’s get the definition of plot out of the way first.

Plot is the events of the story. If you wrote a mystery novel, the plot would include:

  • The first murder.
  • Detective finds Clue X
  • A second victim is murdered.

Moreover, not a single genre has plot as the top requirement for readers. Most genres are setting or character. Literary is the exception with style, and it’s not too popular.

I suppose plot rises to importance with the Stage 1 and 2 writers because it can be associated with a shiny idea. We want that shiny idea to turn into a best seller. Many writers fantasize about it like winning the lottery. Their book hits the best seller list and they can quit their day job and lounge by the pool all day.

This gets into another area, more common at every level of writing.

Ideas that are too easy to come up with.

It’s when you hear a theme for an anthology and it’s the first idea that pops into your head. The same idea as everyone else, and the same idea as Hollywood, which relies heavily on cliches. If I said there was an anthology call for a murder in a restaurant, what did you immediately picture? Probably a restaurant critic murdered for a bad review.

Now apply this thinking to a Stage 1 and Stage 2 writer using an AI. They fixate on plot, use an idea anyone can come up with and plug it into the AI. The AI doesn’t create a story. It pulls from hundreds or thousands of stories it has access to and mashes these elements together.

This results probably in a lot of gibberish, but also like the old Xerox where you make a copy of a copy of a copy. I used to work in a copy shop. This was in the days of paper and a man would bring in a Hollywood script to copy, presumably to submit to an agent.

He must have lost the original at some point.  This was several copies deep of it. Some of the pages had been copied at an angle so the text ran off. All the pages were covered with spots from the copying process.

If the AI scans Stage 1 and Stage 2 writers, this is what the program will produce.

But expect to impact how we submit to magazines and anthology calls.

Impact on us?

  • Magazines and anthology calls with probably start with short submission windows. Neil Clarke reports those as not being as affected by the AI submissions. These are challenging because you have to be ready for the window and get the story in fast. I also doubt if it will remain unaffected.
  • Writers will need to certify that they wrote the story, not AI. I’m expecting to see this show up as a more immediate solution. And the publishers will get burned by writers who lie about this.
  • Some publishers may decide to shut down. All these magazines already receive far too many submissions. With an increase of AI submissions—and trying to catch stories created by one—that may be more work than a publisher wants to do.
  • Possibly a requirement to submit queries for short stories. The AI stories wouldn’t even get in the box with that circumstance. But it’d also lose some legitimate writers who struggle with queries.
  • Invitation-only anthology calls and magazine submissions. This would do for writing what technology is doing to industry—removing the ability to learn skills at the entry-level. Contrary to general belief, you don’t learn writing skills by aspiring to lower-paying levels. Rather, all you do is set your standards lower.
  • An alternative to the idea above is to request a submission ID and once you received it, you could submit a story. This would discourage a lot of writers because it’s so many extra steps.

Rather than helping, this will hurt us. We’re already seeing organizations like CNET try to phase out writers. It wouldn’t be surprising to see one of the publishers try dump writers in favor or AI stories. More likely this will show up in Hollywood first because they’ve never wanted to pay the writers. And there are a lot of lower level magazines that consider publishing a story for no pay a gift.

Is there are fix? It’s a good question and is going to take some time to shake out. What do you think the publishers are going to do in reaction?