AI Prompts: The Ugly Truth

This post was prompted (pardon the pun) by a comment from Ana on an earlier post. The short version concerned the amount of detail I gave the AI to get a result I wanted. I’ve been giving the comment a lot of thought and wanted to address it, along with the pros and cons of giving an AI engine as much detail as possible in a prompt.

Apologies going forward because this is pretty much stream of consciousness as I’m doing this as I sit in a waiting room for an appointment this morning.

A little background on how I got started going down this experimental road with AI engines. I’d been reading a lot about some of the AI programs and apps and how writers were starting to use them not only for brainstorming but to actually write books for them. In fact, a video came across my Youtube feed yesterday about an author who claims to be writing 100 books a month using AI. (Yes, my eyes did roll on that one and no I did not watch the video.)

Unconvinced of the claims that the AI tools were as transformative to the creative process as the printing press had been, I tried some. Yes, I had fun playing with ChatGPT and others. But I wasn’t satisfied with what I produced. It might be too generic or the returns from prompts were too short. What folks tend to forget is that a lot of these engines have character limitations, not only on how much information can be put into a prompt but how much information is created from that prompt.

What I did learn is that if you are serious about using AI as a tool and not as a shortcut to generic work, you have to be detailed with your prompts. The AI needs information to help it create the setting, the character descriptions, the pace of the plot, even the plot itself.

The AI engine also interprets data in the order it is given.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t go off course and even out of the ballpark when it is “writing” a scene based on a prompt.

One of the best AI writing apps I’ve found so far is Sudowrite. Not only does it have excellent tutorials and a very active Slack community, it is fairly easy to use. There is a learning curve, however, which makes the Slack community extremely helpful. The problems? Sudowrite isn’t free and it is, like the other AI apps, online only.

Anyway, getting back to the detail needed for prompts.

If you have a story in mind, especially if you are writing a series, you want the detail. The more detail you give the app, the more it knows and is better able to meet your needs. Also, the more detail it has, the less it sounds like an app wrote it. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to edit and then run it through one of the programs that check your work for plagiarism and for tells that an AI had a hand in it. But it does make everything easier.

As for those claims that you can write multiple books a month, especially double digit books in a month, waggles hand. I can see that if you ware writing the text for a children’s picture book or you are doing what is little more than a low content book. But to write a novel? I don’t buy it. Not yet, at any rate.

The best results I’ve gotten using an AI app has been with Sudowrite and further using its newest option: the story engine. This makes the app a true tool for the writer because you give the program a full framework for your novel or story, starting with the “braindump” where you have 2,000 words to basically tell it everything you want to about the story, from plot to POV, to stream of consciousness ranting and raving. That’s followed by identifying the genre(s) and then the style(s) you want the AI to take into account as it helps you create your story.

From there, you get more into the nitty gritty of it. You can do up to 800 words of a synopsis. This is something you can write yourself or ask the app to write based on the braindump and other information you’ve already given it. After that, you have your characters, again something you can give to Sudowrite or have it do for you, the outline and then the beats per chapter followed by the chapter itself. The more detailed and specific the beats, the more detailed and complete the chapter.

All of this can by done via the app with minimal input from you or it can be your creation with only certain parts created by the app.

In other words, it is up to you how much actual control you want. Since I’m a control freak, I want as much control as possible.

This is also because I’m lazy and I don’t want to spend weeks rewriting everything because the app didn’t use my style, etc. And, yes, AI apps like this can learn “style”.

Anyway, final thoughts here because it looks like they’re finishing up with my car. AI apps like ChatGPT and Sudowrite are only as good as the effort you put in to make them your “own”. Even then, it is going to take time, concentration and dedication to truly make anything it “writes” into your own work. The last step is very necessary, as is running it through a plagiarism checker so that you don’t wind up having Amazon or the other storefronts coming down on you.

And, on that note, if you are using AI, even for only basic assistance, keep on top of any changes in the Terms of Service for Amazon and the other storefronts.

Until later.


  1. For me, watching it all unfold is the fun part. I can see how someone who prefers the editing process to the writing process might find it very useful, but as someone who enjoys the writing itself AI seems to turn it all into the sloggy bits I hate. Which doesn’t mean it won’t be a useful tool for someone else, but I don’t see really availing myself of it.

  2. I’m the Ana of the past comment ;-), catching up in past blog posts.

    That sudowrite seems more interesting, probably because is oriented to writers, so it has (and will have) addings more oriented to a writer’s work. I can see it using in non-fiction work, just feeding all the information you are at the same time reading/processing and giving you a ready-made starting point you can edit.
    In fiction, or something you care about giving your personal style to the text, the amount of work to take that initial point and shape it to your voice is as much work as writing all by yourself. I can see it for brainstorming, when you don’t know how to follow or adding more meat to your story, give it the general points and add all kind of crazy ideas one at a time, just to see what produces and if something sparks.

    But as you say, if you use a lot of the output of the AI, you have to be very careful to not kill your voice. I follow my favourite writers throughout all the genres they choose to write, I feel what I like is their voice, so I don’t mind really what they are writing, I’ll have my favourites, but usually if I like their style, I’ll read whatever they produce. Leaning too much on AI can kill your voice, and someone starting as a writer might not even develop that voice.

    And then there’s the grey unknown part of what can happen with what you use to train the AI and the output it produces, both parts are used in the tool for future improvements and for private or public use. I can’t even begin to wrap where to put the limits for fair use.

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