26 January 2015

Not quite there yet

Alerted by Nate Hoffelder’s blog to the ingenious Text Clock by Ross Goodwin, I next had a peek at Mr Goodwin’s blog and noticed that he has devised and made public a fiction generator.

Of course I tried it out, feeding in some character-names and adjusting the “depravity” slider leftwards (I’m a prude like that). Then I hit “Generate”. The machine did its thing, drank some coffee, smoked a cigarette, did its thing some more, guzzled a bit of whiskey (or so it claimed), and came up with a shiny new novel, all 209,687 words of it.

Here is the opening paragraph:
Chapter 1
Other Scrapovitch?”
, a comprehensible ship, no more than a manageable handful could be sur- veyed in two glances; Iona looked, and was where Iona was and what to do. But in this liner Seara for an able master. In that ship Anaia could see at once way to take unless Kamil had a good memory. No understood could not see where Iona was, and would never know which designed with a cunning informed by ages of sea-lore to move came to Jett in that hall of a measured and shapely body, non-irritant skin permitted to stand there to afford man an New York’s skyscrapers, which this planet’s occasionally daring. But with the knowledge that this wall must be apparent reason to be gratified with Iona’s own capacity and that little opened in Anaia’s altitude, Iona found Iona in afloat there came no sense of security when, went through, for Iona was puzzled as to direction. Iona’s last ship a spacious decorated interior which hinted nothing of a ship.
(I did not input any of these character-names, though the ones I did suggest occur later.)

While this may not make the New York Times bestsellers lists, one can see clear evidence of phrasing and sentence-structure. There is only one spelling mistake and (with a few trivial exceptions) there is no problem with the punctuation. It is an impressive feat, several steps on from the poetry generators (like this one) that take advantage of the free form and, frankly, pretentiousness of much modern poetry. Prose is less elastic than poetry and demands less effort on the reader’s part.

As a means of understanding language and our response to it, trying to write a fiction generator is an interesting and useful project. It also reminds us how advanced and amazing – in the true sense of that word – are the abilities of the human brain, for Nature and education have gifted us not only countless thousands of quirky and unique fiction-generators but millions upon millions of equally complicated fiction-interpreters.


Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Goodwin, not Godwin.

Richard Herley said...

Oops! Thanks -- fixed.

Moe The Cat said...

I think this is how Fifty Shades Of Gray was written. :)

It's an interesting idea, but it will never replace a living, breathing author like, for example, Richard Herley. There's very little skill or creativity involved here, except from the guy that programmed it.

Richard Herley said...

Thanks for your comment, Moe -- whether or not I'm still breathing I leave to the medical profession to figure out!