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Writers get stuck at many points in the process of crafting a novel. It’s hard to get unstuck and overcome writer’s block.

Have you had any of these sticky writing problems?

  • You have a great plot idea for your novel, but you’re not sure which direction to take it.
  • You’ve written a great fight scene but can’t make it come alive.
  • You’ve imagined a fantastical world, but you struggle to describe it to your readers.

Don’t you wish there was a “Get Unstuck” button that could carve a path forward and help you make progress?

Successful authors produce high-quality writing, and they turn out novels quickly. The faster you can write a great book, the more books you can write, and the more income you can earn from your sales.

We recently talked about various AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools for authors that can help you write better and faster.

One of those tools was Sudowrite (Affiliate Link). I recently interviewed Sudowrite’s AI developer and co-founder, James Yu. James is an Angel Investor, and he writes speculative fiction. He knows what it’s like to feel stuck while writing.

What is Sudowrite?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: What is Sudowrite?

James Yu: Sudowrite (Affiliate Link) is an AI assistant for creative writers. Think of it as a sparring partner who helps you edit your book, create new scenes, and generate plot ideas.

Sudowrite can help you write your next sentence or plot point, and it can give you language to describe elements of your story.

Thomas: Think of it as a thesaurus for a paragraph. Sudowrite will help you write a new sentence or paragraph rather than simply replacing one word.

Writers have always had dictionaries, thesauruses, and even rhyming dictionaries. Sudowrite uses AI to take writers to the next step.

James: It’s more than a thesaurus because it has a degree of understanding.

Sudowrite can pierce the veil of your story’s content. It understands the story to a certain extent and gives you suggestions as if you’re collaborating with another person. Imagine trying to unblock yourself by talking to a friend about a plot problem. Sudowrite can be that friend.

We didn’t create Sudowrite to replace the creative process. We developed it to complement your knowledge of the craft by enhancing your writing and filling in the gaps.

Thomas: It doesn’t replace Word or Scrivener. Sudowrite is in a different category of tools.

Describe Feature

Sudowrite screenshot of Write button.

How does the Describe button help you overcome writer’s block?

Thomas: One feature is the “Describe” button. Can you describe what the Describe button does?

James: If you are running out of ways to describe a dragon, or you don’t have the scene fully realized, you can use the Describe feature to find out how AI would describe a dragon in the context of your story.

The Describe button will return sensory descriptions for all five senses as well as metaphorical descriptions. You may get terms or phrases that won’t work in your story, but they could spark inspiration. It will help you think outside the box to describe the dragon in ways that aren’t necessarily cliché.

Maybe you should think about the acrid smoke smell he emits or his bellowing ribcage. A metaphorical description might say, “his wings were waves that enveloped like a tsunami.”

Many of our writers take bits and pieces of the generated descriptions and incorporate them into their prose.

What if the AI suggestions don’t fit my context?

Thomas: You can use the suggested wording or let the suggestions spur your imagination. If the descriptions seem incorrect, you’ll think, “No! That’s not how it was. It was like this.” And suddenly, 500 words fly onto the page.

James: Sometimes, the generated suggestions say what you’re afraid to say.

Personally, I’m very hesitant to make a particular call on a character, but the AI has no hesitation. AI can be that friend who will say anything.

The AI will help you fill negative space too. It may elicit things you do not want, and you can write in the opposite direction of the suggestion.

Thomas: That could be a fun writing challenge. You could feed a scene to the AI, push the Describe button, and see what comes out. Then challenge yourself not to take that direction. If that’s the obvious direction to AI, you have to write something different.

If the AI thinks the character will open a door, you must make her crawl through a window.

Do Not Overuse the Describe Button

We’re not recommending you click the generate button repeatedly and paste that text into your document.

That would be like writing a text message simply by tapping the autocomplete word suggestions. You don’t always send the autocomplete message. If you keep clicking the suggested word, eventually, it will say something you didn’t mean to say.

That’s not how you use a tool like this. 

Use Sudowrite to save time and get unstuck. 

James: Sudowrite doesn’t insert the text straight into the text editing box. Instead, it shows the five suggestions as note cards on the right-hand side. When you insert those note cards into your work-in-progress, they will be highlighted in purple.

The highlighting reminds writers the text is raw AI text.

You should probably reread it and organically introduce the ideas into your manuscript instead of using the slot-machine mode where you repeatedly generate AI text and use it raw. If you do that, your story will be absurd.

AI tools are state-of-the-art, but Sudowrite can’t generate an entire novel. Even if it could, it’s intended to be a collaborative tool with humans at the center, augmented with AI.

Thomas: I suspect many of these features will eventually appear in Microsoft word. Until then, writers who use Sudowrite have an advantage over those who don’t.

Even Gmail is using AI. You can click one of their suggested replies when you write an email.  

Write Feature

What is the Write (previously called Wormhole) feature?

James: The Write feature is a supercharged autocomplete function. It looks at the context of what you’ve written so far and writes the next paragraph so that the end reader would think the same person wrote it.

If you’re writing a romance novel with lush descriptions and complex relationships, the Write tool will recognize that and give you a few different versions of the next few paragraphs.

When writers get stuck, they ask Sudowrite for options on how to finish a paragraph or sentence. The generated suggestions can help you get unstuck and help you overcome writer’s block.

The Write feature is also very flexible in that you can guide it. After it generates a paragraph or sentence, you can tell it you want the next generated suggestion to be funnier or more ominous. You can also ask for suggestions for how your character killed his father or some other plot point in your story.

Suggestions Can Help Determine Your Story’s Direction

Thomas: I can see that being good for mystery writers. If you ask for six different ways for one character to kill another, you can use one of the suggestions. On the other hand, maybe those are the obvious choices, so you force yourself to come up with a different and unexpected way for the murder to happen.

The fun of a mystery is not knowing what will happen next. If you and the AI are generating ideas, AI might pick a powerful plot twist that can get you out of your writing rut.

Mystery writers used to come up with six different scenarios and then roll dice to decide which one to write. Sudowrite applies that method on steroids. It will generate an unlimited number of scenarios.

James: Writers sometimes use decks of cards or book lists to help solve problems in their stories, describe characters, or provide a list of domestic conflicts that could happen inside a household.

Many AI writing tools are about giving you the next few words or paragraphs. They’re the trees, but we’re looking at the forest. We’re looking to level-up the next plot point, help you outline, and understand your character arcs.

Suggesting Plot Points to help Overcome Writer’s Block

One aspect of the Write feature will suggest the next possible plot point. For example, in the dragon story, you can ask the AI, “What if the dragon turned out to be the princess reincarnated?” 

Plot-point solutions get closer to the heart of many of our story problems. You might get into your prose too early and start wordsmithing to fix a problem when the problem is actually at the plot-point level.

Suggestions to Help Develop Characters

Thomas: If you know your protagonist well but struggle with the antagonist, you can use AI to help you develop your antagonist or any secondary character.

If you’re not sure how a second character will respond to your protagonist, you can feed the scene or dialog into the AI and let the AI decide what the other character will do next.

Possible Future Feature: Character Chat

James: We’re experimenting under the hood to see if you could chat with your antagonist. What would you say? What would they say?

I do that kind of freeform writing in my meta documents (or story Bible), where I keep all the facts about my characters and my story world. I’ll write chats or diary entries. AI is good at generating that sort of thing.

Brainstorming Feature

Sudowrite screenshot of the brainstorm feature.

James: The brainstorming tool can generate possible solutions to certain story problems. You can feed it the context of the story with a couple of examples, and it will generate more suggestions.

For example, if you’re writing a mystery and trying to decide how the murder should happen, you can give a context for the problem. You’d offer suggestions like “with a wine bottle in the fireplace room” or “with poison in the kitchen.”

The AI will respond with lists of other things that could happen. You can thumbs-up the suggestions you like, and your input will train the AI to improve its suggestions and tailor them to your book.

Summarize Feature

Thomas: Authors hate writing the summary for their agents and marketing departments. Could an author feed their story into the summarize tool and ask it to generate a one-page summary?

James: It won’t necessarily be a coherent one-pager, but we are working on building it out so that you can feed your entire novel and get a two-page summary as well as a logline.

Right now, the summarize feature gives you a chunk-by-chunk summary. Many writers feed a couple of chapters into the Summarize feature and get the outline for those chapters. The first summary will get you like 90% of the way there.

Thomas: Having 90% of a summary to tweak is far better than having to retell your whole story in fewer words. Authors hate writing the summary because it’s telling instead of showing. If AI can give you a summary draft, it’s a real stress reliever.

James:  Summarizing is a big flow-killer. It uses a different part of the brain. The AI is shockingly good for distilling the larger story into a log line.

Summarize Feature for Publishers and Agents

Thomas: Most marketing people at publishing houses don’t have time to read every book their company publishes. They publish a couple of books every week and don’t have time to read every one, but they still have to develop loglines and marketing phrases.

I could see this tool being very useful to a marketing professional in the publishing industry. They could submit sample chapters to the Summarize feature and get through their slush pile faster.

James: Folks in the publishing industry get very interested in this tool because it could help with their slush pile.  

Thomas: There are other AI tools designed specifically for the slush pile.

Another AI tool called Subtext works in the direction opposite of Sudowrite. They start with the outline and fill out a scene.

I could see your tools working together in an interesting way. Authors could generate the scene description with Subtext and feed that description into Sudowrite to get the actual scene.

James: It’s a Cambrian explosion of tools for storytelling right now. Authors have a wealth of options to help them ideate.

Thomas: We’ve gone from the typewriter to a typewriter with spell-check to the word processor. Today, the number of writing tools is growing.

AI isn’t an improved typewriter. It’s like a well-informed friend who can read your book and give suggestions.

James: I want to stress that there’s no manual for using AI with the craft of fiction yet.

Our writers use it in many ways. We are in the early stages of discovery and experimentation. Writers are discovering how it fits into their workflow, and we are working with them closely.

Beta Reader Feature

Sudowrite sample of AI beta reader feedback.

Thomas: Does the AI beta reader give you feedback?

James: Yes. It’s currently a lab feature, so you could consider it a beta-beta reader.

It will analyze 3,000 words of your story. You could feed the Beta Reader Feature a chapter, and it would reflect the themes it found in your story. Think of it as a critique partner summarizing a chapter and telling you what it “liked.”

We instantiate three virtual readers for you that will offer reflections such as “I liked the scene with the dragon,” or “I liked the descriptions used for bellowing,” or “I liked the twist about the princess being reincarnated into the dragon.”

We don’t intend to replace beta readers. You should definitely have humans reading your story. But it could supplement a first draft you’re not ready to show your human beta readers. You might want to see which clichés or tropes it sees in a specific passage.

I’ve found it helpful for unearthing themes and subtext in my own writing. It has exposed certain themes I didn’t know I was incorporating. This feature helps me get it out of my subconscious and see which themes I need to accentuate or remove.

We are also mindful not to give too much prescriptive feedback with this tool. I’m not comfortable with AI suggesting that you need to change part of your plot. With more research and development, we’ll get there. But reflecting on the themes it sees has been valuable for our writers.

Can you ask Sudowrite questions?

Thomas: Can you ask it questions, like “How can I make this scene more exciting?”

James: You can get there with the Write button because you can give one sentence of guidance for how you want the scene to proceed. The AI will incorporate your guidance and give the corresponding results.

Think of it as a very junior writing assistant to whom you give one sentence about what to do next. You could say, “I want something unexpected to happen,” and the AI will follow suit.

I’m teaching our writers many advanced techniques. You can write what I call synthetic scenes or synthetic sentences.

For example, within the scene, you could write as usual and then type, “Something very unexpected happened,” then wait to see what the autocomplete (Write button) will do. That will get the AI into the groove of generating unexpected ideas.

It’s shockingly good, and it’s very flexible.

What are the legal ramifications of using what AI generates?

Thomas: If AI writes whole sentences and paragraphs, does that mean Sudowrite owns the copyright to my book?

James: No. We do not own the copyright. You own everything Sudowrite’s AI generates.

Thomas: The legal doctrine, if I understand this correctly, is that since I’m feeding the AI prompts, I am doing the creative act from a legal perspective.

The AI can’t write from nothing.

In the same way, Microsoft doesn’t own the copyright on your book just because it fixed 10,000 misspelled words. You wrote the misspelled word in the first place.

The primary creative act begins with the human, not with artificial intelligence. AI isn’t a legal entity. It can’t sue you, and it can’t be sued. The courts do not recognize AI. Non-human legal entities like Apple exist, but the AI that powers Siri is not a legal entity.

AI and Plagiarism

James: That is a good summary. I would like to emphasize that I am not a lawyer, and I will not give legal advice.

I will, however, touch on one important area. If you feed any of these AI tools an exact line from an existing book, it will return the text of that book. For example, If you give Sudowrite the line, “Call me Ishmael,” it will happily provide the text of Moby Dick.

It’s trying to figure out what you want it to write. If you give it your original content, it will also provide original content.

On the other hand, if you are trying to get it to plagiarize, you can get the neural network to do that.

You should always give it your original content.

Thomas: Other AI tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid (Affiliate Links) will check for plagiarism.

As with all tools like guns, software, or food, you can use them for good or evil. The more powerful the tool, the more potential it has for extreme good and extreme evil.

Just as guns don’t get sued when someone gets shot, AI cannot be sued. The person using the tool gets punished because the laws govern humans or collections of humans like a corporation. 

Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.

Is it ethical to use AI tools like Sudowrite?

James: You, as the author, are applying the creative effort that generates the output. If you’re a bad writer, Sudowrite won’t make you a good writer. It’s not magical.

You have to work to collaborate with the AI.

Some people try and use our platform for what I call casino-style writing. They pull the lever repeatedly, filter the results, and let the tool churn out a novel. Even that method, which I do not recommend, requires a lot of effort.

Thomas: In the same way, you could send a text message by repeatedly hitting the autocomplete suggestions. But if you don’t step in with your human intellect, you’re eventually going to say something crazy that you don’t want to say.

The act of you guiding the process is a creative act.

Michaelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel alone. He painted parts of it, but he also had 13 assistants. We don’t know if Michaelangelo painted the most famous part of the painting where the hands of God and Adam almost touch. But we do know that it was Michaelangelo’s creative vision that was captured on the ceiling.

Whether he or an assistant applied the paint, Michaelangelo gets the credit because he had the vision. He was the leader, and he gets the credit.

When using an AI tool like Sudowrite to create something worth reading, you still have to be the leader. You provide the creative impetus.

What happens if you overuse Sudowrite?

There’s a risk of using a tool like this too much. If you lean on it exclusively, it will ruin your writing. But that is not my primary concern for most writers.

I am concerned that writers won’t use this tool at all because they’ll be afraid of using it too much.

AI tools work best when they’re filling the gaps, helping you get unstuck, prompting you to think differently, and helping you overcome writer’s block.

James: That’s our entire goal as a company. We don’t want to produce more AI words. We want to unblock authors. If they never use a single generation from the AI but write a thousand more words per day because of the suggestions, then we have done our job.

Many authors use Sudowrite to workshop a particular chapter that’s giving them problems.

If you’ve critiqued it and want to break out of your box, you can use the Write or Describe buttons to workshop different elements of it, but you won’t necessarily do that with every chapter.

Another benefit of AI is that it will never poo-poo your writing or tire of your stories. It will build on what you give it.

It builds upon what you give it. If you give it X, it will suggest adding Y. It can be an improvisation partner for you.

Features for the Sensory Impaired

Thomas: The sensory descriptions Sudowrite generates would allow a blind writer to add visual descriptions to a story.

I don’t really have a sense of smell, but with a tool like this, I could get ideas for what smells might be in my scene.

For writers with diminished senses, a tool like Sudowrite can help them where they’re weak. I’d love to hear the story of somebody who’s deaf or blind and used this tool to strengthen their writing in ways that would otherwise be difficult.

Poetry Tool

James: We have additional functions aimed at specific kinds of writing.

For example, have a poetry tool that could help with epigraphs or songs in your novel. It can be very lyrical.

Thomas: If I want my dwarves to write a song, but I don’t want to write the song, can I generate one?

James: Yes. Exactly. But in cases like that, I always wonder if readers read the songs. I typically skip them.

Rewrite Tool

Rewrite is like a Photoshop filter. If you’ve written a passage and want it to be more ominous, you can give Sudiowrite that guidance, and it will introduce new ominous vocabulary words that perhaps you haven’t thought of yet.

The Rewrite tool can be paired with the Describe tool.

Thomas: Beginning authors often create characters who all sound the same. It takes some time to learn how to differentiate your characters.

With Sudowrite, you could tell the AI, “Sally should sound more sarcastic.” The suggestions it generates could help you give Sally her own separate voice.  

Where can writers learn more about Sudowrite?

James: You can create your free Sudowrite account and start getting AI feedback immediately at Sudowrite (Affiliate Link). 

 In our active Slack community, writers trade tips on writing novels, poems, stories, and screenplays. Long-form narrative is our sweet spot, so give it a try for your work-in-progress.

Featured Patron

Daniel Bishop, author of Place of Refuge (Affiliate Link)       

Dyanna Jo knew she was meant to be a mom. Her body disagreed. After a devastating miscarriage, she starts to research foster care and adoption. Will Heaven send a baby to a family full of love to give? Place of Refuge is the first book in the heartwarming Baskin Family Foster Journal series.  

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