Sunday 24 September 2023

Writers’ Questions: Should Authors Worry About AI?

Welcome back to my Writers’ Questions series, where I write blog posts answering authors’ and aspiring authors’ top questions related to the craft and business of writing, drawing upon my own personal experience. This week I’m writing about how generative artificial intelligence is changing the industry. Search engine data and IRL conversations I’ve had over the last few months demonstrate that there are lots of questions out there about AI, but, for authors, many of these boil down to just one: “how worried should I be?” My answer (at least for right now!) is, “Don’t sweat it.”

Many fiction writers love to cling to the traditional and familiar. After all, we’ve chosen to write novels in an age dominated by short-form video content. And in the past few years I’ve heard people prophesy the death of the novel due to Amazon, e-books, audiobooks, Netflix, social media, self-publishing and more. Yet, people are still reading, and great books are still getting written. New formats and publishing possibilities have complicated, but not killed, the business, and successful writers have learned to evolve with the times. I believe the advent of accessible generative AI tools will have a similar impact. So here are a few reasons I advise you not to worry.

Bots write in cliches

The AI bots out there currently, like ChatGPT, parrot material they’ve been trained upon. What this means in practice is that they are typing/talking (if not walking) cliches. If you’re using an AI tool to help you plot your novel, I’d almost advise you to write the opposite of what it comes up with. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up with an outline so trope-filled your readers will be rolling their eyes.

AI tools avoid the negative

The makers behind the best generative AI tools out there are sensitive to PR disasters (remember when that bot on Twitter became a Neo-Nazi in under 24 hours?). What this means is that bots are often trained not to give answers that skew towards the dark side. However, pain is at the heart of great fiction. Ever heard that old adage about putting your main character up a tree and then throwing rocks at him? Yeah, an AI bot is less likely to do that and any fiction it produces will be poorer for it.

AI can be your assistant

Even as a fiction writer, there’s a lot of non-fictional material you need to write, e.g., marketing copy, email newsletters, and author biographies of many different lengths. An AI tool could help you speed up some of these tasks, letting you get back to what you’re best at—using your imagination. Just note that if you’re using an AI tool for research, double check anything it tells you, as the bots are known to “hallucinate” (i.e., give you information that isn’t true!).

Your voice is unique

The best novels have voice, meaning they don’t sound like anything that’s been written before. So even if another writer had exactly the same plot idea as you—or someone fed that idea to ChatGPT—the final product would be very different. This is the beauty of writing and so, if anything, I hope the age of AI makes fiction writers step up our game. There are still questions that need to be answered (e.g., how to ensure AI tools don’t plagiarize published authors’ works and that writers are properly compensated if their intellectual property is used in “training”), but right now we have our humanity and our voices on our side. Trust me, this blog post is MUCH more entertaining than the response ChatGPT gave me when I asked it to answer the title question. Why don’t you try it for yourself and see?

Let me know what topic you’d like to see me tackle next as part of my Writers’ Questions series. You can get in touch here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Want regular updates on my writing and me? Sign up for my monthly email newsletter here.

Sunday 3 September 2023

The Top 10 Blog Posts from the Secret Victorianist

I can hardly believe it, but I’ve now been running this blog on nineteenth-century literature and culture for over a decade! The blog has changed a lot over the years as I’ve made the move from London to New York City, my interests have evolved, and I’ve become a published author myself. 

So, in a belated anniversary celebration, I decided to look back through the archives to revisit my top 10 performing posts of all time. 

1. Are YOU an Elizabeth Bennet?

I started my blog with a bang and a LOT of enthusiasm, publishing 13 posts in the first month alone (nowadays my goal of two a month is more achievable). This post, a tongue-in-cheek look at whether I would cut it as an Austen heroine, was one of them. Pride and Prejudice (1813) remains such a cultural touchstone I’m not surprised this article still sees traffic every day—I mean, the 1995 BBC adaptation even got a shout-out in the recent Barbie movie!

2. Tennyson’s ‘To Virgil’: An Exercise in Analyzing Poetry

You’ll see a lot of poetry-focused posts in this top 10 list, which was initially surprising to me. When I write about poetry my promotional posts don’t gain a lot of traction on social media, but when it comes to search engine traffic, those articles rise to the top. My hypothesis is that students are stumbling across my blog when looking for homework help analyzing poems like Tennyson’s ‘To Virgil.’ I can only hope they’re enjoying my write ups, and not just plagiarizing my analysis!

3. Introducing Victorian Poetry to Children

More poetry, but this time with a #KidLit twist. In this blog post I share some more accessible Victorian poems to get children excited about reading verse from the period. 

4. The Best and Worst Tropes in Historical Fiction

This 2018 post is focused on my personal opinions about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to historical fiction tropes (and spoiler alert: I’ve already changed my stance on a few of these issues!). I’d be fascinated in hearing other readers’ views on this topic and what makes a historical novel great to them. 

5. ‘This Genealogical Passion’: Hardy, Incest and Degeneration

The high bounce rates I see from this page suggest that maybe an academic blog on nineteenth-century literature and culture isn’t quite what people are looking for when they Googled “incest” (!), but despite this I selfishly wish more people would read Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved (serialized 1892), one of the strangest Victorian novels out there.

6. Review: Against Nature (À Rebours), Joris-Karl Huysmans (1884)

I’ve written quite a lot about nineteenth-century French literature over the years, but this review of the premier text of the French Decadent movement is far and away the best performing.

7. A Victorian Alphabet: W is for Witchcraft

In 2013-2015 I published a series of posts making a nineteenth-century connection to every single letter of the alphabet (yes, some were easier to think up than others!). While the Victorian period isn’t the one we most associate with witchcraft, this post has been a perennial top performer, especially as we approach Halloween. Here, I focus on the accusations of witchcraft leveled against the character of Eustacia Vye in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (1878). I also link to my review of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novella, Lois the Witch (1861).

8. A Victorian Alphabet: K is for ‘The Kraken’ (Tennyson, 1830)

More poetry and more Tennyson! In this post I take apart every line of this short and powerful poem about a creature from the deeps. 

9. Misconceptions about Victorian Literature

As a blogger focused on nineteenth-century literature and culture, I often have to contend with people’s preconceptions and misconceptions about what Victorians were like. In this early blog post I tackle the misinformation.

10. A Dickensian Masterclass in Repetition

This is the only writing craft post to make the top 10 and I’m not surprised it’s about lessons we can learn from the master of Victorian literature himself—Charles Dickens. While I do references Dickens’s most famously repetitious passages—the openings of Bleak House (serialized 1852-1853) and A Tale of Two Cities (1859)—it’s his lesser-read 1848 novella The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain that I do a close reading of here.

What would you like to see me write about next as the blog goes into its second decade? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Interested in getting regular updates from my blog and on my fiction? Sign up to my monthly email newsletter here.