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If You Give an AI a Writing Prompt…

Ok. Fasten your seat belts. I am giving an online writing AI a test drive, using my free trial of a website called Sudowrite. I gave the AI a writing prompt from my crazy ideas file, a mere handful of words that I wrote down a very long time ago (I think in the ’90s) and never went back to. Here’s the writing prompt:

St. Louis Blues

“Take me to St. Louis,” said the cruise missle in the thick of the bramble patch.

Howie Hinkle blinked, and put down his machete. “How’s that?” he asked.

“Take me to St. Louis,” the missle repeated.

Howie howled. “Paw, dammit, there’s an old water tank in here and it’s talkin’ to me!”

It’s not a great deal to go on, but that was the idea. With a bare hint of a concept, what would Sudowrite do? I could have written some of it myself, or edited it, but I wanted to see what the damned thing could produce solo. 100% of the writing after the prompt was done by the AI. I had hoped to avoid the literary equivalent of Salvador Dali. Well, too bad. Hello Dali…

St. Louis Blues

“Take me to St. Louis,” said the cruise missle in the thick of the bramble patch.

Howie Hinkle blinked, and put down his machete. “How’s that?” he asked.

“Take me to St. Louis,” the missle repeated.

Howie howled. “Paw, dammit, there’s an old water tank in here and it’s talkin‘ to me!”

His father, Howard Hinkle Jr., took him for a look. The old tank was rusty and damaged, with a huge gash in it. Penetrating the tank from inside was a cruise missle, with a single eye and a fin on top. A single missile launcher poked through the gash.

“Who the hell are you?” Howie Jr. asked. “Why do you have a cruise missle?”

“My name is Shiloh,” said the voice. “I am a cruise missle, and I will ask you one more time to take me to St. Louis.”

“I don’t know where St. Louis is,” said Howie Jr.

“I will find it,” said Shiloh. “I am a golem of the Mossad. If you do not help me, I will call my brethren. We will clear the bramble from the road, and from there, we will find you.”

“Y-you can’t do that!” Howie Jr. said.

“If you do not take me to St. Louis, I will call my brethren, and we will take your woman, and we will bring her back to Tel Aviv. We will use her to breed a generation of human-missle golems. You can raise them with your own spector. They will be of your tribe, and they will spread across the land.”

Howard Hinkle Jr. swallowed, and wiped the sweat from his brow. “If I take you to St. Louis, will you let us alone?” he asked.

“I will,” said Shiloh.

“Deal,” said Howie Jr. “Let’s go.”

Hours later, a police car rolled up, and several officers got out. One pulled Howie Jr. aside.

“Which way did he go?” he asked.

“Er- he went that way,” Howie Jr. said, pointing.

“We appreciate your cooperation,” said the officer.

“Say,” the officer said, “was that your grandma that was in the hotel room with you?”

“Uhh, she’s my wife,” said Howie Jr.

“Doesn’t look like a 43 year old woman, honey,” said the officer. “What’s your name?”

“Howie, honey,” Howie Jr. said.

“Yeah, that’s what he said,” the officer said.

A week later, on the steps of the White House, President Obama announced the success of the St. Louis negotiations. Behind him, an Israeli flag hung. Beneath it, a Mossad agent clapped.

“What a complete dick,” said the agent. “He really thought he got one over on us, didn’t he?”

Shiloh’s eye blinked, and his fin wiggled.


  1. Still a little Salvadore Dali… but I’ve read science fiction that reads that way. 🙂

    1. Weird. The blog software was telling me I double posted with each version of this.

  2. It still reads a little Salvadore Dali… but I’ve read science fiction that reads that way. 🙂

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    Mrs. Pennywood was baffled. Major Lyndhurst had been playing chess at the vicarage until ten o’clock, and Maggs the gamekeeper had been judging the darts match at “The Ring of Bells” until half past nine. Then who was the bearded man Widow Hillman had seen in the back garden of Gilly Cottage at nine-fifteen?
    sudowrite continues…

    Having extracted this much information, the inspector thanked Mrs. Pennywood and said he would leave the pies and the knitting until tomorrow. He spurned the offer of a hot drink, and followed by the constable, who had been waiting outside in the darkness, crossed the green and went straight back to Chippenham.

    Here he visited the garage which owned the car the mechanic with the misshapen ear had left outside the post office. The owner, a Mr. Lovelock, said he had never seen the man or the car before, and had no idea how it got there. He promised to advertise for it in the local papers and looked forward to catching the fellow “red-handed.” The inspector said he hoped he would.

    So far, he reflected, he had learned nothing. He had established the fact that the bearded man could not have been Major Lyndhurst, and he had discovered that the bearded man could not have been the owner of the…
    It would appear that sudowrite has been primed with a large corpus of texts, can recognize a sample matching the “tone” of some genre, and then continue, using elements common to that genre; in this case the references to “the inspector”, “the constable”, and “Chippenham”.

    However, it’s not smart enough to construct a valid narrative. “The owner” of “the garage which owned the car” … “had never seen … the car before.”

    1. That’s a great prompt, and as in my other tests (I’ll post another one as soon as I catch enough spare time to write it up) Sudowrite sort of wanders around, bumping its nose against a whole lot of different things, few of which have anything to do with the prompt.

      I think it may work best as a collaborator and maybe, in small ways, an idea machine. Start with a prompt, let it run for a few hundred words, then take control again for a few hundred works, and do that back-and-forth until the story either wraps up or disintegrates into Daliesque incoherence. I haven’t tried that yet, but I will.

  4. Rich Rostrom says:

    I tried again:

    At the crest of the rimrock, the Panamint Kid drew rein. Looking back, he could see the dust cloud raised by the pursuing posse.

    sudowrite continues…

    “You’ll catch somethin’,” he told them grimly, “but it won’t be me!”

    Then he wheeled his horse, and he and the blood bay disappeared over the rimrock and down the slope.


    Two days later, near sundown, the Kid brought his horse to a halt on the crest of a low ridge, and looked off to the west. Far off, just visible through the heat waves, he could make out the dark bulk of the Panamints, and he smiled grimly.

    There was something about those mountains that he liked, as much as he enjoyed being free, for the first time in his life. They seemed to represent something to him—a challenge, perhaps, although he could not have said what it was.

    The blood bay, too, seemed to feel the thrill of being in country strange to it. It blew…

    Now that is impressive.

  5. TRX says:

    It reminds me of Barry N. Malzberg, Ron Goulart, or some of Philip K. Dick’s stuff.

    I didn’t like it at all, but they managed to sell that stuff somehow.

  6. […] SF writers are in no danger, at least for the time being. I wanted to give ChatGPT a fair chance, just like I gave Sudowrite last year. Sudowriter started out weird and got weirder. Well, hey, I wanted to see it write fiction. My […]

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