Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Category: writing (Page 1 of 24)

AI? Aye, no

Someone suggested to me today that I use ChatGPT4 to help me finish The Wild Hunt Quartet.

The suggestion was kindly meant. I believe they genuinely thought it might be helpful, that maybe I could use this technology to help finish The Dragon House faster. Whilst I appreciate the thought, I will not be using any kind of AI tools in my work, either now or in the future.

I haven’t waded into the social media furore about large-language models (LLMs) being trained on copyrighted works, or various websites entering into agreements with AI companies to sell them training data without users’ consent, because pretty much everything I’ve wanted to say has already been said by folks more articulate and well-informed than me.

There are any number of objectively valid reasons not to perpetuate the AI bubble, quite apart from the hideous environmental cost of powering these LLMs and that AI-assisted search engines straight up lie to you. But the one I want to talk about is subjective, entirely personal.

What a generative AI writing assistant spits out will not be my story any more.

There, I said it. Does it make me sound precious? I don’t care. I’ve invested too much of myself into this world and these characters. Even if this AI is trained on my books, given prompts I have fine-tuned to the nth degree, it will not be a product of my brainmeats. And if I will have to edit what the AI spews out anyway, I might as well just write it myself. Then the book, and by extension the series, stands or falls by my efforts.

When I read this person’s email this morning, I was reminded of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Arthur Dent’s attempts to teach the Nutri-Matic to make him a cup of tea.

He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

— Douglas Adams

I am not going to spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to teach a machine how to write almost, but not quite, entirely unlike me.


Featured image credit: Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Learning to fly again

The last few months have seen some changes happening with The Dragon House. Don’t panic, they’re all changes for the better, but there’s a bit of a theme to them. It’s only become clear to me quite recently what that theme is.

I’ve been learning how to let go. Of old ways of thinking, mostly, but also of ideas that have run their course. Things I’ve been holding onto just because I loved them, and had loved them for so long that they had become part of the Wild Hunt Quartet’s furniture.

Towards the end of last year, I realised something about myself as a writer. In all the stress and anxiety of coming to terms with my increasing disability, whilst also having a *very* late book to finish, I’d been focusing too hard on what my brain thought I *should* be doing with said book, instead of what the story actually needed (I blogged about that here).

It’s a dramatic scene, containing two of my favourite lines, that has been a tentpole incident in the script since forever

Basically, I’d stopped trusting my storytelling instincts, the very things which had carried me through three-and-a-bit books to date. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a planner by nature; my process is more organic and free-range ¹. So realising I’d started trying to enforce rules and rigidity on myself, and that was strangling my forward progress, was revelatory.

Fast forward to this summer. Long-time readers will be aware that I’ve had persistent timeline issues with The Dragon House, as a consequence of narrative choices I made at the end of The Raven’s Shadow that put Gair several days ahead of the rest of the principal cast.

To avoid postponing his return as a point-of-view character, I sliced-and-diced the timeline of TDH. Tried time-jumping interludes. I even rearranged the script into parts by region/story arc – twice! – putting it back to chronological order in between. But nothing worked, and I was increasingly miserable.


Birds in flight above a misty river as the sun goes down, cropped to banner proportions


In July 2023 I figured out why. I was afraid of a repeat of what happened with Trinity Rising, when I chose to begin it with Teia: it delayed Gair’s reintroduction, which resulted in a reviewer accusing me of having abandoned him for half the book.

Reviews are for readers, not writers. Seems silly to be afraid of what one might say in the future, right? Yet even though I thought I’d moved on, it was still affecting my decision-making. I was contorting and confining my story for the sake of one solitary opinion that I had allowed to live in my head rent-free for literally years.

So I let go of that notion too, and trusted my storytelling instincts again.

Fast forward to this week. Riding something of a high from all the progress I’ve been making with The Dragon House, I stumbled over another notion I’ve been wedded to for far too long.

This one is a plot-thing, rather than a structural issue. It’s a dramatic scene, containing two of my favourite lines, that has been a tentpole incident in the script since forever. I love the idea of it, but this section is bogging me down. I can never seem to get beyond 90% happy with it. I keep returning to fiddle with the dialogue and action beats in search of that elusive last 10%, but never find it.

But nothing worked, and I was increasingly miserable

Reader, I’ve deleted the entire chapter. It’s clear to me now that the greater story has evolved away from it over time, and it no longer serves the purpose I imagined for it. Trying to make it work is probably why I’ve been bogged down here. It’s time to let it go, even if it has always been there.

So the Sunk Cost Fallacy also applies to writing. Who knew?

Obviously, there’s a cascade of consequences to removing this scene which I have yet to fully address, but on the whole this letting go/killing my darlings experience has been liberating. I’m having fun again. I’m so much more at ease with my writing, it almost feels like I’ve rediscovered something I hadn’t quite realised I’d lost: the gift of flight.

The only mystery is why it’s taken me so bloody long to recognise what I needed to do.


¹ Who am I kidding? I am a chaotic-good word-goblin, and I am not sorry.


Featured image by Adrian Campfield from Pixabay

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