AI gets a lot of flack from writers. It’s a new technology, barely out of its infancy. We are only just starting to understand and debate the legal ramifications and the uses of programs like ChatGPT.

Some authors are up in arms. How dare software companies use their work to train robots to replace writers! And they might have a point. The future of AI, both its capabilities and the law around it, are up for discussion. However, right here and now, you can start using AI to improve your writing. Remember, don’t be scared of modern technology. They said the same things about the printing press. 

Limitations of AI

So, let’s start with the good news. AI isn’t coming to take your job. AI works by logic, like all computer programs, it’s only as good as what gets put into it.

Let’s see an example.

I asked ChatGPT to ‘Write me 100 words in the style of Terry Pratchett about a thief trying to open a locked door.’ Here is what is gave me:

 In the dimly lit alley, Clive, a rather inept burglar, found himself facing a door that appeared to have been designed by a mischievous deity. He fumbled in his pocket for his trusty lockpick, an assortment of bent wires and hairpins that had seen better days. As he prodded and poked at the lock, the door seemed to chuckle softly. ‘Tricky, ain’t ya?‘ Clive muttered to the inanimate object. It was as though the door had a mind of its own, taunting him. After several comical attempts, a sigh, and a whispered apology to the door, it swung open, leaving Clive to wonder if his bumbling nature had somehow won over the door’s sympathy.

… Yeah.

Looking at this piece, it’s… well, OK. At best. It feels like the software has been told Terry Pratchett wrote funny fantasy books with British idioms and often featuring comically inept protagonists. But any fans of Pratchett can spot what this is a mile off – a cheap imitation. ChatGPT has the capacity to write bad fan fiction at the level of a teenage blogger, but nothing more.

I also asked it to write me a 500-word story in the style of HP Lovecraft. The vocabulary was there: ‘monolithic‘, ‘unfathomable‘, ‘eldritch‘. All very Lovecraftian words. It even had a proper-sounding protagonist called Nathaniel Wainwright. But it wasn’t scary. There was no tension, no payoff. All the stuff that horror needs.

So, AI doesn’t have a soul (at least not yet…) and simply isn’t capable of producing art with one. It can cobble together a kind of tableau to whatever specifics the user desires, no trouble. But it still doesn’t understand vital elements like plot structure, emotion, or humour. You need to add these.

Also, for the reasons listed above, AI can’t give meaningful feedback on your writing. It can’t understand context, it can’t ‘get‘ jokes. It won’t appreciate your writing or be able to offer any kind of useful critique. You need a beta reader for this.

So, what can AI do?

AI can help you with the donkey work of writing. By that I mean, things like coming up with a list of names, or deciding the setting of the book. Let’s pretend we’re writing a dark fantasy with sinister magic, and conspiracies influenced by 16th-century Italy. We ask ChatGTP for a list of ‘10 fantasy names’. Here’s what we get:

Thalindra Shadowthorn

Draven Stormrider

Seraphina Nightshade

Galadriel Silvermoon

Thorne Ironheart

Elowen Mistwood

Sylas Frostwind

Lirael Starfall

Gavrok Fireforge

Elysia Thornbrook

Let’s look at these. They are very much slightly weird-sounding first names, and surnames that seem to have been cobbled together by drawing strips of paper from a big hat of ‘mystical nouns/adjectives’. They are generic. The sort of flavourless high fantasy stuff that could slot into any Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Also, someof them, such as ‘Galadriel’, are ripped off from The Lord of The Rings.

You get a lot more from A&I when you’re more specific. Let’s try again. This time, I said: ‘Please give me 10 random fantasy names based on 16th-century Italy’.

Alessio di Martino

Isabella da Vinci

Lorenzo Fiorentino

Bianca Sforza

Marco de Medici

Giuliana Bellini

Giovanni Romano

Elena Visconti

Fabrizio Rinaldi

Lucia Caravaggio

That’s much better! But let’s look a little at the names. We cannot call any of our characters ‘da Vinci’ or ‘Medici’. Those are famous real people, and just like if we use ‘Galadriel’, it’s going to make us look like clowns.

Once more, let’s get even more specific:

‘Give me 10 random fantasy names, based on 16th-century Italy. The tone of the book is a dark fantasy with sinister magic and conspiracies.’

Malvina della Morte

Demetrio Obsidian

Seraphina Diabolica

Valerio Malaspina

Isidora Velenosa

Alessio Nottorno

Bianca Umbra

Lucian Vipereye

Lisabetta Sanguevivo

Orsino D’Incubo

OK, now we’re getting somewhere! ‘Seraphina Diabolica’ is a bit chewing-the-scenery, but overall, these are pretty solid names. We can use one of them for the protagonist, and it’s good to have a list of ready-to-go names for any other characters that crop up in the book.

Brainstorming, we decide that the book is going to be about the interactions between various nobles, with our protagonist being tossed around like a pawn. So let’s ask it for say, half a dozen of these slimy chaps:

Duke Alessio di Verona:

Ruler of Verona: Duke Alessio holds the grand city of Verona, a wealthy and strategically positioned hub for trade and commerce. The city’s influence extends to the surrounding towns, vineyards, and farmlands.

Secret: Alessio is in possession of a long-lost map that hints at the existence of a hidden, mythical artifact of immense power. He is secretly funding expeditions to find it, as it could solidify his rule and reshape the realm.


Lady Elara Rosanova:
Ambassador of the Capital: Lady Elara’s domain is less geographical and more about her role as the chief ambassador, with her residence in the capital city. She oversees foreign relations and has extensive networks of diplomats and agents worldwide.

Secret: Elara has been secretly communicating with a rival nation, exploring the possibility of an alliance that could tip the balance of power. Her motivations remain enigmatic, and her loyalty to the realm is in question.


Count Lucius da Vinci:

Renaissance Center: Count Lucius’s territory encompasses a region known as the ‘Renaissance Center.’ This area is a hub of innovation and culture, featuring advanced workshops, art studios, and architectural marvels that contribute to the realm’s artistic and technological growth.

Secret: Count Lucius is working on a groundbreaking invention, a machine with the potential to alter the course of history. However, his work is plagued by a dark and dangerous source of inspiration that he keeps hidden.


Baroness Isolde Malatesta:

Shadows of Secrecy: Baroness Isolde’s influence extends to the clandestine world. Her intelligence network, the ‘Shadows of Secrecy,’ operates discreetly throughout the realm, with key hubs in major cities. She oversees information gathering, counterintelligence, and espionage.

 Secret: Isolde has uncovered evidence of a conspiracy within the highest ranks of the realm’s government, implicating some of her fellow nobles. She is biding her time, collecting proof and deciding when to reveal this treacherous truth.


Sir Francesco Medici:

Veronan Borders: Sir Francesco commands the military along the realm’s borders, responsible for protecting the realm from external threats. His territory includes a series of fortifications, outposts, and strategic strongholds at key border crossings.

 Secret: Francesco secretly resents Duke Alessio’s leadership and believes he could rule the realm more justly. He has a network of supporters who may be willing to back him in a bid for power if the right opportunity arises.


Sir Vittorio Savona:

Southern Expanses: Sir Vittorio’s domain lies in the southern territories, where he has control over fertile farmlands, resources, and key cities. His desire for territorial expansion often leads to conflicts with Duke Alessio’s vision for the realm.

 Secret: Vittorio has a forbidden romance with a member of a rival noble family, threatening to disrupt the realm’s political landscape. This secret love affair has the potential to jeopardize his military career and his loyalty to the realm.


Again, you need to look at the names. Let’s change them a bit. Verona easily becomes Vingoria, and we can swap da Vinvi and Medici for da Varvichi and Surgeoni. (Yes, I am going to hell for that last pun, but I like it.)

Whenever ChatGPT suggests anything, you need to google it first. Check that the names don’t belong to real people, and check you’re not accidentally plagiarising other writers’ hard work.

 Looking at our list of nobles, we can see a couple of potential plot elements, but let’s leave that for now.

Fleshing out the world, we can ask ChatGPT for details of the surrounding countries:


I’d like to know more about Duke Alessio di Verona’s realm. Which countries are its main rivals, and why?


Duke Alessio di Verona’s realm, located in a 16th-century Italy-inspired setting, has several neighboring countries as main rivals. Here are a few of them and the reasons behind the rivalries:

The Kingdom of Lysandria: Lysandria is a neighboring kingdom with a history of territorial disputes with Duke Alessio’s realm. The two nations share a border rich in fertile lands and valuable resources. Both Duke Alessio and the Lysandrian monarch lay claim to these contested territories, leading to frequent skirmishes and power struggles.

The Republic of Caelara: Caelara is a powerful maritime republic with a dominant navy and control over key trade routes. Duke Alessio’s realm and Caelara vie for control of lucrative sea trade and ports. They often engage in economic and political battles to secure their interests, resulting in a bitter rivalry.

 The Principality of Ventiserra: Ventiserra, a principality known for its mystical practices, has a longstanding religious and ideological rivalry with Duke Alessio’s realm. The Ventiserrans worship ancient, dark deities, which clashes with the more traditional beliefs of Duke Alessio’s subjects. This religious divide has fueled conflicts and enmity over the centuries.

The Grand Duchy of Monteluna: Monteluna is a powerful duchy known for its skilled spies and information networks. The rivalry between Duke Alessio and Monteluna’s Grand Duke stems from espionage, political manipulation, and the covert game of secrets and conspiracies. Each seeks to outwit and outmaneuver the other in a shadowy world of intrigue.  


We don’t need to go into any more detail at this stage, but we can use these footnotes to tie into our nobles we created earlier. But more importantly, we’ve got a setting we can build off. AI can’t do all the work for you, but it can give you a strong place to start.


Many good fantasy novels need a map. For this, you need to have an illustrator. There is no AI-based software that can replace the hand and eye of a properly trained artist, especially one that specialises in fantasy maps.

However, over the course of your worldbuilding and writing, you will need a rough map to track where your protagonist travels to. Even if the action is just in one city, a rough map will help keep your writing consistent and believable and protect you from having to spend hours editing it to make sense.

Software like Inkarnate is perfect for this job. It’s specifically designed for fantasy maps and will give your eventual illustrator a jumping-off point when they do the ‘proper’ version. This software also does battlefield maps. So, if you’re planning a big fight scene, it can be really useful for keeping track of where everyone is.

A final note of warning

It bears repeating: Google everything. Every name that AI suggests, every nation, every everything! ‘The AI told me to do it’ will not hold up in IP litigation. Employing AI is still very much a caveat emptor affair.

The best way to think of AI is as an enthusiastic, well-meaning brainstorming friend – a friend who occasionally has some very funny ideas and needs to be kept an eye on because you don’t really trust them with scissors.   

Jack Shannon is a massive nerd. He’s also the author of Brigandine, a Grimdark fantasy novel full of swords, bloodshed, and Lovecraftian horrors. If you like your books sweary, bloody, and just a bit funny, why not give it a read?

Do you write fantasy or science fiction?

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