A couple of years ago, I began writing a piece for my blog about Amazon and self-publishing. I thought I had a clear idea until I started writing it. Finally, I put it aside because it seemed unclear.
Yesterday, my son Edward, a writer himself (though of music) sent me an interesting article about artificial intelligence and writing, The Great Fiction of AI by Josh Dzieza, in theverge.com
The article discusses how artificial intelligence is approaching the point at which it can write fiction. It quotes Mark McGurl in his book Everything and Less, who captured in perfect economy of words what I had been trying to say in my earlier attempt: “the Kindle platform transformed the author-reader relationship into one of service provider and customer.”
In the opening, the article shows a writer who writes a book every four months, following a project management approach. She explains that she “allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months.”
This is dramatically different from the writer telling the story in his head and heart and (if it is good enough) giving it to the world through a publishing industry the begins with an agent, passes through editors residing in comfortable offices in New York publishing houses, through distribution, to independent booksellers (or the only big one left, Barnes and Noble), on whom the reader depends to suggest a good book.
The article details the latest efforts of Sudowrite, an AI designed for writing. Sudowrite accomplishes fiction by massive statistical analysis. Such fiction would be what that comfortably ensconced editor might look down her patrician nose at and pronounce to be “formula fiction.”
Then there’s that other stuff. The story that takes a half-year to draft and a year or more to revise. It’s often formula, too, simply because the natural progression of a story is a formula: beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. Aristotle codified it (along with so much else in western thought), but it holds through many cultures and a great deal of music and poetry as well as writing.
Presumably, AI will get better and better. After all, Deep Blue, the chess supercomputer, did finally beat a grand master. But will statistical observation allow Sudowrite to write good fiction? Hard to tell. The bluesman says, “You gotta suffer if you want to sing the blues.” If you want to write deep emotions, don’t you have to have felt them? Or can you rely on the descriptions of others to do it for you, as sampled by AI?
Not sure of the answer, but the transformation wrought by Amazon, in my mind, establishes a bifurcated world of fiction. Right now, there’s a creative wall between the fast written, formula driven novel that is being reeled in by Sudowrite and the traditional writer-in-a-garret novel.
Next problem for me: I’m on the Indie/Amazon side of distribution world and the writer-in-a-garret side of the creative wall. And that wall I mentioned may be a chasm.
But I write for passion and pleasure, and to enjoy the infinite complexity of the mother tongue, so I ain’t quittin’.