How writers can distinguish themselves from AI

AI writing is spreading, but generative AI will never have your power. Do this to lean in to your humanity and distinguish yourself from AI.

Generative AI is here. If you tell ChatGPT to write a 300 word story about a hedgehog with hiccups, it will happily do so at least as well as a ten-year-old writing their first Harry Potter fan fiction.

The bad fan fiction doesn’t seem like a big problem, but give that ten-year-old time to grow up and the fear of many writers–that their beautiful stories will be replaced with soulless AI-generated tales–becomes a lot more plausible.

However, some aspects of human writing may never be replicable by AI. Each person brings their unique soul and experiences to their writing in a way AI can’t (we hope).

If you want to distinguish your writing from AI-generated writing, play up your humanity.

Not sure how? Here are some ideas.

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What colour are your characters’ eyes?

I tweeted the other day to ask writers if anyone else had no idea the colour of their characters’ eyes. Responses were enthusiastic.

A few days ago when I was playing on Twitter*, I made the mistake of tweeting this:

* I know it’s not called Twitter any more, and I probably shouldn’t be there. But I call it that and I’m there, so… hedgehogs.

A tweet by A.S. Akkalon that reads:
Please tell me there are some other writers who don't know the colours of their characters' eyes.
It’s not kidding. I am editing.

I expected one or two chirps from the void and then silence.

Instead I spent a good portion of the next day responding to a plethora of writers who felt this was an important point. (Is 147 a plethora? I think it is.)

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Fantasy novel trends not to follow

I read two years’ worth of Publishers Weekly fantasy novel reviews and noticed some trends. I also picked up some querying advice.

If you’ve ever queried a novel (tried to find a literary agent who’s excited enough about it to represent you), you’ve probably agonised over comp titles.

Now I can say “me too”.

What are comp titles?

Comp titles are books that are similar to your book in some way and are either supposed to tell agents the vibe of your book or tell editors how many copies they’ll be able to sell.

Depending on who you ask, comp titles should be books–or movies or TV series (or definitely not movies or TV series)–that:

* are less than five years old, less than two years old, less than ten years old, or not so new no one knows them

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How important is the first paragraph of a novel?

I took four fantasy novels and predicted what each was about based on its first paragraph. Yes, the first paragraph of a novel is important.

Writers are told they have to grab their readers by the throat in their first sentence. Attention spans have gone the way of the megalodon, and if you don’t grab a reader straight away you’ve lost them.

A first sentence should do everything. Be a microcosm of the entire story. Introduce a fascinating character. Be surprising. Set reader expectations. Foreshadow the story problem. Raise a question. Wash the dishes. Hang out the laundry. Pick the kids up from school.

Okay, maybe not all those.

I agree first sentences are important, but how much can they really do?

I decided to find out.

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How long does it take to write a book?

I tried to add up how long it took me to write my current book. The answer was quite a long time.

How many drops of water are there in a drink bottle?

How big is a tree?

How many clouds are there in the sky?

How hot is soup?

How many dragons are there in a flock?

I have lots more meaningless questions, but I’m sure you get the idea. I can’t tell you how long it takes to write a book, but I’m getting closer to knowing how long it took me to write my current book.

Let’s pretend you care about that, and I’ll tell you.

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