Day Fifty-One: Could A Computer Write A Novel?

Skipped yesterday’s blog because… Well, by the time I started writing a friend and El Novio showed up so we ate dinner instead. The good news is I did write a few 1,000 words which far surpasses what I’ve put in for the week prior to that. At least I’m no longer dragging my feet through the mud.

Anyway, during a very well-crafted meal of shrimp pesto (I am a cooking goddess) my friend asked El Novio about his work. El Novio is a computer programmer and very hush-hush about his work. I think he genuinely believes no one outside of another programmer would comprehend what he’s talking about, but it’s frustrating to try and pry information from him about his daily activities so I just assume he’s in an underground Fight Club and we move on.

However last night, as he does on occassion, he tries to put it in layman’s terms. Clearly, it made no sense (no offense, but he’s not always able to convey a simple greeting, yet alone complex programming). But I posed a question inspired by his over-simplified description:

Could you program a computer to write a novel?

(Or, to complicate this even more, could I enter a plot, a series of events and let it connect the dots? My own outline looks like an incomprehensible list of unrelated events. My job as a writer is to know how to unfold those events into each other.)

He says, “Short answer, yes. Long answer, it’s complicated.”

But while I actually believe that through computers anything is possible, I had to disagree (naturally, I’m a writer). While I think a computer can analyze words and stick them next to each other in a way that relatively makes sense, I don’t quite believe that through random idea generation or even linking two separate events a computer could write a good book. It could write a book, maybe even a comprehensive one, but not a good one.

A computer can’t tell you what it’s like to wake up on your birthday and find that no one you loved remembered it. It can follow grammar and find a meaning, but the thing that makes writers great are the connections between things that no one had ever seen before, the unique descriptions, the flawed sentence structure, the unseen plot twists. As a reader, my favorite part, is thinking that someone in the world was brilliant enough to create such a broad and whole story.

(Naturally we also discussed the idea that you put 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters and eventually you get Shakespeare, but I disagree with that as well. Shakespeare invented 1,000s of words with intention… A monkey can’t do that!)

So I thought I’d pose the question to you guys.

Could a computer write a book? Or, to make things more personal, could a computer write YOUR book?

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5 thoughts on “Day Fifty-One: Could A Computer Write A Novel?

  1. This is a really interesting topic! I have to agree with you here. While I believe it’s somehow possible for a computer to create a novel, I don’t think it can capture the creative and fascinating elements that good storytelling has. The computer program would probably create a complete story but it would never be good enough.

    As a writer, I would probably be dissatisfied with the results. There would always be something missing, something that could be a little better. Most importantly, having a computer program write my novel takes the fun and challenge out of writing. Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool to think a computer could do this.

    Great post!

    • I agree with you on that. The writing and reading process is a very human experience.

      However, after discussing the sort of program that you would have to create… It would have to be such an elaborate program bordering, if not exceeding, Artificial Intelligence. It would be such a feat that I think writing a novel via computer program would be an art in and of itself.

    • That is because you are a very unique little snowflake. It is clear you are a genius literary mind. Please feel free to post excerpts on my blog. I would very much like to read your work.

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