There’s a new, exciting tool for novelists. It is, however, controversial – like the best stories are, from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to the bleak realities depicted by Michel Houellebecq. Yet whereas these tales cause your throat to churn, this tool delights and offers the contemporary writer many ways to bring his or her story to life.
That tool is artificial intelligence. In the past year, there have been hundreds of articles and videos expressing dismay and horror at the blending of artificial intelligence with art. I have contributed to this myself with an article stating ChatGPT will never write a great novel. Yet is this fair? To paint artificial intelligence – and most technological innovations – as a plague to art, which is too pure and ought not to be corrupted by inventions designed by man? I have had second thoughts. Here’s why.
You can use artificial intelligence to help bring fictional settings to life. DALL-E, the subject of this article and an exciting tool from Open A.I, helps you do this in three ways: getting inspiration, visualising settings and locations, and providing suggestions for promotional materials.
A.I. scepticism is understandable. Whilst writers and artists debate the merits of Open A.I, it’s obvious there are real fears of being replaced by robots and having your work undervalued. Yet we cannot escape A.I – nor should we. Technology, as I’d argue, is a crucial tool to creating art and literature. That’s why I am currently obsessed with DALL-E. Here, A.I generates an image based on your prompt and unlike ChatGPT, it is a paid service with content restrictions. There are other limitations: the generated images are not particularly large, are frequently glitchy, and you typically receive four results for each prompt, whereas more may be needed. Yet DALL-E is brilliant for one group in particular: creative writers. I count myself as one of them, and in this article, I’ll articulate the many benefits of DALL-E for fiction writers whilst providing some visual examples. I’ll also discuss my ongoing project: a speculative fiction novel set in the aftermath of a heavenly war in Somerset, England.
Benefit One: Getting Inspiration
One of my favourite aspects of DALL-E is its inspirational nature. From the prompt, where users can ask nearly anything they desire (with some content restrictions), it is clear DALL-E offers many benefits to a writer. When using DALL-E for the first time, I typed in a scene from my novel set in a library with Tiffany-inspired lamps. The prompt, and the results, caused further consideration into the visual characteristics defining my novel. I love DALL-E for teasing out ideas and seeing unique combinations. Not all the results are perfect, of course. Some are ugly and others are unusable. As previously stated, artificial intelligence is not a perfect tool meant to solve every problem faced by humanity.
Also, writers can get inspiration from the creations made from others. I’m quite fond of various Twitter accounts who create dreamlike landscapes and environments for their aesthetic accounts. These are certainly clever – and highlight the many possibilities from prompt engineering. Perhaps one may inspire a future story of your own, or encourage you to try prompt engineering for yourself and your story. There are bountiful opportunities – but you must seek them out.
Benefit Two: Visualising Settings & Locations
Here’s a remarkable aspect of DALL-E, and why I am excited about it: the ability to create visual references, and images, for characters, plots, settings, and narrative beats. I’ve done this, myself. DALL-E generated four images of a neoclassical cafe with men wearing suits. Whilst these images are not great works of art or anything like that, they are sufficient for me, a writer who would benefit from more visual references and guidelines. One struggle of being a writer is not having a sophisticated grasp on the appearance of an object, a character or a location. So often, it takes several drafts for the visual language of my fictional universes to come through. There is some magic in that, of course – writing does involve the imagination. However, this is a tiresome process and I do appreciate DALL-E providing some suggestions on what locations could look like. It’s ultimately my choice whether I adapt them or not.
If I don’t, I can still use the generated images as springboards for the location in question, or I can edit the images further in Canva or in Photoshop. Unfortunately, DALL-E doesn’t yet generate large images, which narrows the possibilities each image has. But for now, DALL-E does a spellbinding job for authors seeking to visualise plot points, characters, and settings.
Benefit Three: Creating Promo Materials
DALL-E may transform your promotional materials for upcoming releases. This is because it can generate visuals of certain moments, settings, and themes. Whilst A.I is currently unsophisticated to create book covers and interior illustrations, this may change. For now, DALL-E can create potential posters and book covers, which even when unsuitable, can help inspire graphic designers or further creative ideas. That’s why DALL-E, as well as other tools involving artificial intelligence, should be viewed as the starting point for creativity – not the final product.
Whilst I have not personally done this, Dall-E might work for creating promotional materials to share with potential readers and fans. An author might render a scene using DALL-E or use the application to create posters and graphic art. Other tools, such as Canva and the Adobe Creative Suite, can also add effects. The options are, thankfully, endless. I predict future exciting marketing campaigns from authors due to the possibilities unleashed by A.I. Right now, authors could use DALL-E to communicate with book cover designers and content creators about their ideas regarding their story. We mustn’t fall into the trap of dismissing Artificial Intelligence because of glitches or a lack of sophistication. Part of being a writer – or any artist – is using the tools available to you. I’m certain DALL-E will become a cherished tool for writers, regardless of their skill level or future publishing plans. Whilst in its earlier stages, I remain optimistic about its future and look forward to other writers utilising artificial intelligence.
What are your thoughts on DALL-E?