It’s the last Friday of the month and you know what that means! It’s ᖇEᗩᗪ ᗩᖇOᑌᑎᗪ TᕼE ᖇᗩIᑎᗷOᗯ time!
٩(θ ‿ θ)۶
This month’s topic is…
Artificial Intelligence vs. Me
A.I. seems to be the hot topic of late, so the Read Around the Rainbow crew thought we’d take some on head to head. Write a 300-word (or more) little bit of flash fiction, give the same basic parameters to an AI, and compare.
First thing I thought of was the precisely 300-word flash fiction story I wrote for the Queer Sci-Fi anthology, Ink, titled Cave Drawing. I didn’t want to cheat and directly use that rather than write something fresh, but the story idea stuck with me and I decided to do an alternate POV story that parallels it.
My original story, Cave Drawing, is beneath the spoiler tag if you want to read it, It’s Ryan’s story, then below I’ve written Simon’s perspective of the same story.
CAVE DRAWING by ADDISON ALBRIGHT
(Precisely 300 words)
Ryan would never again see his husband, Simon, but he could communicate, dammit. He’d already done so.
Could… would… had. It got confusing. Ryan blinked away tears, stared at the blank cave wall, and scoffed.
If he didn’t do it, would he create an alternate timeline, or would that seemingly unobtrusive change affect their singular timeline like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, obliterating his own existence? Was it even possible to change things?
After weeks spent deciphering his new reality, Ryan was now positive the wavy air he’d run through had been a time rift. Others nearby must have seen him disappear. It was a small comfort to know Simon wouldn’t suffer wondering if he’d been abducted and tortured. Instead, Simon might believe some natural phenomenon had disintegrated him. A premature but painless demise.
Or would Simon figure it out?
Ryan pulled in a shaky breath and stirred more minerals into his ink. Locals had been stymied, but Ryan now understood that the cave scrawls where he and Simon had enjoyed quiet picnics together had been (were about to be?) his own doing. The art had appeared primitive, but the surviving text was in English, so it obviously couldn’t have been legitimately ancient.
Except it was. “Thousands of years,” Ryan muttered.
His new present was a time before humans inhabited this place, yet not so far back that the terrain was comprehensively changed. Trees had shifted, the cave entrance had eroded in the future Ryan came from, but it was still recognizable.
Same place. Different era.
A single tear traced down Ryan’s cheek as he dipped a trembling finger into his stone bowl and applied ink to wall. Maybe… just maybe… the next time Simon visited “their” cave, he would look at Ryan’s message and know.
CAVE DRAWING: SIMON’S POV by ADDISON ALBRIGHT
(Precisely 300 words)
Simon set the lantern on the cold floor of the cave and sat beside it. Criss-cross-applesauce as his second-grade students would say. Flickering light illuminated the wall he’d come to see.
He’d been on the brink of cracking throughout Ryan’s memorial service. Afterward, that fragility had worked in his favor when he’d escaped the crush, babbling about wanting solitude and fresh air to clear his head.
In reality, he’d needed to come to the cave he and Ryan had thought of as their own private getaway. How many picnics had they eaten here pondering the mystery of the cave drawings that had stymied both locals and scientists who’d looked into it?
It was a hoax, of course. That was common knowledge, and Simon had never thought otherwise. The only question was how it had been perpetrated. Much was worn away, but the bits that remained were simultaneously thousands of years old yet were a crude drawing of a basic house and a few scattered words—meaningless without the context of those that had worn away—written in English.
A tear slid down Simon’s face as he stared at the drawing. Witnesses had seen Ryan disappear into thin air—or rather a temporary blob of wavy air—not far from here, apparently disintegrated by an unidentified phenomenon that had scorched the ground beneath it.
Simon and Ryan’s cottage resembled the crude drawing. It looked like many kids’ drawings of a house with simple squares, rectangles, and triangles. For grins, they’d made a point of choosing an apple tree to match the cave drawing when they’d planted a shade tree out front.
Simon sniffed and wiped his face. The ache in his heart ebbed. Was it possible Ryan had been transported back in time to become the creator of this so-called hoax?
And here is what the A.I. came up with when I gave it broad instructions to…
“Write a 300-word story about time travel featuring a cave drawing.”
Prehistoric Cave Drawing Discovery by CHAT.OPENAI.COM
In the year 2300, time travel was finally a reality. Mark had always been fascinated by history, and the chance to witness it firsthand was too good to pass up. He signed up for a time travel excursion to prehistoric times, eager to see what life was like before civilization as we know it began.
As he stepped out of the time machine, he was immediately struck by the beauty of the world around him. The lush forests and clear blue skies were unlike anything he had ever seen before. He followed his guide, keeping a close eye out for any dangerous creatures that might be lurking in the shadows.
They came upon a cave, and his guide pointed to a series of drawings on the walls. “These are some of the oldest known cave paintings,” she explained. “They were created over 20,000 years ago.”
Mark was in awe as he examined the drawings. They depicted hunting scenes, animals, and what appeared to be some sort of ritual. As he looked closer, he noticed something odd. One of the drawings featured a figure that didn’t quite fit in with the others. It looked almost like a modern-day human, wearing clothes and holding some sort of device.
Mark was puzzled. How could this be? Had someone from the future traveled back in time and interacted with these early humans?
He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had stumbled upon something significant. He took a picture of the drawing with his phone, hoping to study it further when he returned to his own time.
As the excursion came to an end, Mark couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder. Time travel had opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and he was eager to see where his adventures would take him next.
I totally get that when you’re limited to 300-ish words to tell a complete little story, there will have to be pacing compromises between descriptive commentary and live action. I had to make those compromises and hope I struck the right balance, so I won’t be too picky about the A.I.’s choices regarding that.
Since we’re dealing with a computer generated story, here, and not something created by an actual living person with feelings and such, I’m giving my inner review bitch free rein. I can’t help but read that drivel and think…meh. Let’s take a look at the three levels of editing as applied to his little story to figure out why the story seemed so flat to me.
Content Edit Concerns:
First, Mark stepped out of a time machine to see that cave drawing so it would hardly be awe inspiring to consider someone else had gone back further to be included in that drawing. Second, the part of the drawing that drew his attention seems obvious, so are we really supposed to think Mark is the only one to have noticed this? If that’s to become part of the story, then shouldn’t Mark wonder about that himself?
Line Edit Concerns:
There’s just the total lack of emotion in the overall bland writing style because, on the phrasing level, we are “told” rather than “shown” how Mark feels. Examples: “…he was immediately struck by the beauty of the world…” & “Mark was in awe…” & “Mark was puzzled.” & more. Yes, showing Mark’s jaw dropping or him scratching his head would take more words, but the challenge is to figure out something legit to cut rather than compromise on the writing quality.
Copy Edit Concerns:
Nothing jumped out at me copy-edit wise.
I figured I’d give it another chance by giving it specific details to include in the story, paralleling mine. This time I told it to…
“Write a 300 word story told in 3rd person past tense about time travel and a cave drawing. Ryan unknowingly stumbled through what only appeared to be a blob of wavy air that turned out to be a time rift, sending him back in time thousands of years. His husband, Simon was left behind. Told from Simon’s point of view after Ryan’s memorial service.”
That’s a decent summary of my story, right? This is what it came up with…
Lost Love, Time Rift by CHAT.OPENAI.COM
Simon stood before the gathered mourners, his heart heavy with grief. He spoke of his husband, Ryan, and the love they had shared, his voice trembling with emotion. The memorial service was a somber affair, filled with tears and bittersweet memories. Little did they know, the truth behind Ryan’s disappearance would forever remain a secret, known only to Simon.
It had happened on a sunny afternoon. Ryan, always the adventurous spirit, had decided to explore a nearby cave. Unbeknownst to him, the cave harbored a hidden secret—a time rift concealed within its depths. As Ryan ventured deeper, his curiosity led him to a peculiar cave drawing, etched upon the wall. It depicted a mysterious portal, seemingly swirling with energy.
Intrigued, Ryan reached out to touch the strange anomaly, mistaking it for nothing more than an optical illusion. As his fingers grazed the surface, the world around him blurred and twisted. The cave disappeared, replaced by a vast expanse of wilderness. Ryan had unwittingly stumbled through time, transported thousands of years into the past.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Simon grew anxious as hours turned into days, and days into weeks. He searched tirelessly, retracing Ryan’s steps, hoping to find any trace of his beloved. But the truth eluded him, and Ryan’s fate remained unknown.
Months passed, and Simon finally accepted the unbearable reality that Ryan was gone, lost forever. Today, they were gathered to bid him a final farewell. Friends and family shared their condolences, their faces etched with sadness. Simon, however, held a secret pain, one that could never be spoken.
In the depths of his grief, Simon found solace in the memories they had shared, in the love that had blossomed between them. He would never forget the adventures they embarked upon or the laughter they shared. And though Ryan had disappeared, Simon believed that their love transcended time, connecting them across the ages.
As the service came to an end, Simon found himself drawn to a corner of the room, where a beautiful painting hung—a reproduction of the cave drawing that had lured Ryan into the depths. Simon reached out, gently tracing the lines with his fingers, feeling an inexplicable connection.
Little did he know, the painting held a hidden secret—a faint wisp of air, a portal to another time. And as Simon’s fingers lingered on the painting, a ripple of energy passed through him, a glimmer of hope that one day, he might reunite with Ryan, across the chasms of time.
Ug. I’m not the best judge of how well I managed to find the right pacing balance between descriptive commentary/narrative and live action for my own story, but I’m pretty sure the A.I. totally failed with this one even with cheating by adding more than 100 words to the assigned word count. Or maybe the balance was okay, and it’s the writing style making it feel that way. It felt flat to me. Again.
Maybe a different A.I. could do better than the two attempts I gave this one? IDK, I didn’t bother trying.
Content Edit Concerns:
First of all, it totally cheated on the word count and used that excess to explain stuff that the POV character, Simon, couldn’t know. It says only Simon knows the secret of what happened to Ryan, and we imagine perhaps Simon saw Ryan disappear after touching the symbol but are left wondering how would Simon know that Ryan had been transported back in time thousands of years? But then it goes on to say Simon searched for weeks, retracing Ryans steps, so clearly he did not see Ryan disappear. If it was only referring to what Simon begins to learn after touching the painting, why tell that reveal in the opening lines (at all, let alone with a limited word count)?
Line Edit Concerns:
Even with cheating on the word count it didn’t use those extra words to show rather than tell the emotion for the current action. Example: “Simon grew anxious” & lots of telling about Simon’s grief without truly showing the emotion.
Copy Edit Concerns:
The story is told in past tense, therefore when referring back to previous actions, use past-perfect. “He would never forget the adventures they embarked upon or the laughter they shared.” should be “He would never forget the adventures they’d embarked upon or the laughter they’d shared.”
Much as A.I. has been the hot topic of late, I hadn’t put much thought into it. Hadn’t felt particularly personally impacted by it, which is a poor excuse.
One of the (many) things that came up when our little #RAtR group was discussing it was the fact that, apparently, a number of the A.I.s trained their language models from Smashwords. Besides the question of author consent, I can’t help but wonder if this was the best choice?
Meaning, I understand that for sheer volume to filter through, it might be, but how do they identify what’s objectively good or bad when choosing what to emulate? That’s assuming it did try to target better stories rather than the full range of offerings. Did they look at the number of downloads? The ratings? Because, it has to be said, especially with indie or self-published books in cliquey genres, that’s often a popularity contest, and it’s a crap shoot as to whether or not the writing is objectively good quality.
Yes, often high rankings/ratings equate to quality writing, but often it does not. Likewise, true gems with excellent writing frequently languish with few sales because they aren’t featuring one of the cool tropes and/or weren’t written by someone good at marketing themselves. Whether or not they tried to target more popular stories, it would likely be a mix of good and not-so-good.
I’m definitely not trying to hold my own writing up as something the A.I. should aspire to. I’ve worked hard on learning the craft over the years and recognize that my current writing is way better than my own earliest writings (which were published with me thinking at the time they were perfectly good, but now I look back at them in horror). But I also read many authors who’s fabulous writing styles I can only aspire to in my dreams.
I have no idea what the details of their methods were. I’m only trying to make sense of the poor quality samplings it gave me based on limited info. But unless they had knowledgeable humans in the mix sifting through stories to at least feed objectively good material to the A.I., that might explain the poor examples it gave me.
Were the story ideas it came up with remotely original or are they taken straight out of someone else’s published book? Makes me leery of even looking at something like this as a jumping off point for a story.
IDK. What do you think?
WEBRING ~ Read Around the Rainbow!
Be sure to flip through the webring to read your favorite authors’ takes on this topic! For your convenience, here are direct links to the other WebRing participants’ posts for this month’s topic:
When I wrote the original Cave Drawing 300-word story for the Queer Sci-Fi anthology, Ink, I had the rules of the world I’d created in my novel, When Are You? in mind. Regular people stumbling through a random time rift. They’re not scientists let alone experts in space/time theory.
Ultimately, the MC’s in When Are You? conclude they’re part of a loop that’s set, so long as they don’t deliberately try to derail it, if that’s even possible. There are no cave drawings in my novel, but there are artifacts that led archeologists from a century earlier to declare what had seemed to be a promising site, potentially thousands of years old, to be a hoax.
Turns out those artifacts are no more a hoax than Ryan’s cave drawings. And they become an important clue giving hope to the MCs who’d lost their young son through the time rift (and to the readers). The ending might not be what you expect, but it’s guaranteed to be happy.
Here are a couple handy links in case you’d like to take a closer look:
14 thoughts on “READ AROUND THE RAINBOW ~ A.I. vs. Me #RAtR”
I really like your time-loop novel, the loopiness has internal consistency. The AI one… Not so much!
Thanks! Yeah, I felt like the A.I. stories failed on a couple levels.
I’m actually quite impressed by the first AI example. It was better than those I got, but yes, flat.
I was impressed that it was reasonably coherent despite being written by a computer, but beyond that, no. It wasn’t so much a story as the potential opening scene to a longer story, but one I would have passed on due to all the holes and flat style.
This is the third of these posts I’ve read and I’m starting to spot re-use of stock phrases… Pretty sure “unlike anything he had ever seen before” has turned up in all three and possibly mine too. So AI really is just cobbling things together from standard sentences. No wonder it all sounds so flat.
Oh, that’s bad. I haven’t made the rounds yet, but I’ll look for that.
It got steadily more obvious the more I read…
I’ve already read and loved your story, and clearly recalled it on this re-read. In contrast, the AI version is dismal, conveying no emotion whatsoever.
They seem to be all tell and no show. Flatter than flat.
Yep, flat as a board!!