When I first heard about an AI tool for authors, I was torn. I believed my creative process was unique. Distinctive. How could a mere bot get it? But also, what if it could tell me things that would genuinely improve my books and help me sell more? Figuring I had nothing to lose, I took the plunge.
It’s important to say upfront that the tool, named Marlowe from a startup called Authors A.I., does not do any writing for you, thank goodness. (I have enough competition in my genre, thank you very much.) Instead, it offers a comprehensive 25-page critique that assesses your story’s plot structure, narrative arc, story beats, pacing and all the other elements that go into a novel.
While waiting for the report on my manuscript, I thought — or maybe feared — the AI would pick apart every metaphor, verb tense and character description. Essentially wagging a cyber-stained finger at me and rewriting every sentence. In fact, the AI scrupulously avoided passing judgment. What it did do was give me a reality check — to make sure I was aware of what I was doing.
I also worried that I would end up taking orders from a bot. Philip K. Dick would be laughing from writers’ heaven, or else spinning speedily in his grave. But then I realized …
A human being told it that the books it gorged on were bestsellers. And those bestsellers were, after all, written by humans. The AI’s database consisted of only one thing: the text of books that sold well and books that didn’t, and from there it looked for patterns. It had no independent judgment. No feelings about what constituted a good or bad book. No axe to grind.
So, no, I would not be taking instruction from a machine. I’d be taking lessons from thousands of best-selling authors whose craft and instinct for a great story well told was codified into a series of benchmarks I could use to evaluate my own work.
Even as I eagerly embraced the chance to have my novels compared dispassionately to bestselling authors, I worried I might have to ditch creativity in favor of being a slave to the machine.
In fact, AI has made writing more enjoyable. The initial excitement as I create a first draft out of nothing more than my imagination is still there. Still phenomenal. Still great fun.
But now, I get a roadmap to a second draft that will pull it closer to what my human editor calls “the best version of the story you’re telling.”
You’ve probably guessed by now. But for the record, let me say it here. I am a convert. Why? Because just as I invest in human beings to edit and proofread my novels, I now invest in AI to help me shape the version I send to those human beings. By ironing out simple structural and linguistic issues first, it means my editor can focus on the kinds of issues best done by a human being.
The other reason I use AI is that there’s nothing to agree, or disagree, with. The reports are entirely factual. This many commas in my manuscript. Sentences this long on average. Story beats spaced evenly apart from a gap between 56% and 71% of the way through my story. A protagonist who’s emotional, active and resilient.
Not only that, but I also learn how these numbers compare to books that hit the bestseller charts. That’s a metric I’ll always find useful.
Andy Maslen writes the Inspector Ford books published by Thomas & Mercer. As an indie author, he self-publishes two further series, featuring Gabriel Wolfe and Stella Cole. He is part of the network of indie authors behind the author-run startup, Authors A.I.