The Future of Storytelling

AI Infiltrates VIU’s Arts and Humanities
Creative Writing students and professors across departments are grappling with the rise of generative AI. Some people like it, others hate it. The big question is: what does the future hold for flesh-and-blood writers and artists? Sophia Wasylinko dives deep into the world of text and image generative AI and talks to Creative Writing, Digital Media, and Theatre students and faculty to get a better answer. She also shares her experiences and opinions as a soon-to-be graduate who has dabbled, not of her own volition, with these AI tools herself.
“AI writing a book on a computer.” GENERATED VIA: OpenArt PROMPTS BY: Sophia Wasylinko

“AI writing a book on a computer.”
GENERATED VIA: OpenArt
PROMPTS BY: Sophia Wasylinko

If someone told me in my first semester that people would use generative AI for creative writing, I’d say they were crazy.

I first heard about AI in 2022 when I discovered the Batman AI script, generated by a bot forced to watch 1000+ hours of Batman movies. Then I watched other videos including the first completely AI romantic comedy and the first completely AI horror movie. The movies were so hilariously bad that I didn’t take AI seriously. 

Following the popularity of deepfakes and AI-generated art, I learned about its questionable ethics. The thought of AI smashing together pieces of other artists’ and writers’ works for something “original” was discomforting, and I resolved never to touch it.

The following spring, I was told to integrate Jasper into my content writing job. I was hesitant, and there was a learning curve, but it was surprisingly helpful. Later, my manager told me to test ChatGPT and report on its pros and cons. It was a serious downgrade, and I told her so, but the company still switched over.

Thoughts of AI left my mind. Then, on the first day of class for CREW 425 (Mystery Writing Workshop) last fall, Susan Juby told us a teacher had caught a student using AI.

It had entered VIU.

Evan Shumka is a Creative Writing and Journalism student who has also been involved with Malaspina Theatre productions such as this semester’s “Puffs.” His passion for writing is matched only by his hatred for AI.

Using ChatGPT doesn’t feel like Shumka is doing his own work. 

You’re living a scene as you’re writing it. It’s more intimate than just plugging something into a program to spit something out.

—Evan Shumka, CREW Student

He thinks most professors are allowing AI into the classroom too easily. “It feels like they’re accepting this is going to be the future of storytelling. I think that’s a depressing, bleak notion.”

Shumka doesn’t want to reach a point where human-written literature is labeled “organic.” He wants AI-written stories to remain the exception. 

Creative Writing and English student Maggie Stvns agrees. “AI is dangerous in any industry where people feel like they can save time, energy, or money because it’s not perfect, and I am of the mind that it will never be,” she said.

Stvns does freelance editing and copywriting for friends and band members, and uses image-generating software DALL-E for recreation and Grammarly to help her catch comma splices in her work. However, she says it’s very “anti-voice” when it comes to creative writing. 

Many of Stvns’s classmates avoid AI, possibly because every interaction adds data to its programming and improves it. “For people who value the human element of writing, touching AI feels like saying, ‘Eventually we’re not going to need me,’” Stvns said.

The Nav’s Audio Editor, Jack Corfield, is excited by AI’s transhuman aspect and believes people should explore it. “AI is going to take away the jobs that are boring and hard and make the jobs that are awesome and interesting more accessible,” they said. 

“A colourful fantasy city from above…”<br />
GENERATED VIA: Adobe Firefly<br />
PROMPTS BY: Jack Corfield
“A colourful fantasy city from above…” 
GENERATED VIA: Adobe Firefly
PROMPTS BY: Jack Corfield

Corfield uses AI-generated art for templates and presentations. “I like to do art in a way that’s easy, quick, and gives me a result I can appreciate as soon as possible…. It’s a tool that allows me to create brushstrokes that are very complex.”

However, it’s never perfect due to the generative aspect, and artists shouldn’t beat themselves up over it. “Until you have some direct imagination-to-paper process … you’re going to end up with something that doesn’t look exactly like what you imagined,” Corfield said. 

It’s a wild time to be alive. 

Media Studies professor Dr. Karen Skardzius described things as “loosey-goosey,” with some profs banning AI and others allowing it. She advises instructors to play with it and have open discussions, since they can only avoid AI for so long.

To reduce the risk of cheating, professors are changing how they do assessments and assignments. “We’ve had to do some rejigging, which is a good thing. Academia could use a little kick in the pants now and then,” Skardzius said. 

While AI is useful for brainstorming and prompts, the data is unreliable. She explained that it’s about “aggregating a ton of information and seeing what bubbles to the topwhat’s the most likely answer, not what the right answer is.” 

ChatGPT can also be vague when it comes to topics like K-drama filming locations. The version I used had the knowledge cutoff of 2021, which was extremely unhelpful.

In DIGI 340 (Digital Social Narratives), students explored AI tools, finding them mostly overhyped. Students in DIGI 301 (Digital Media Literacy) learned about AI itself and how to cite it, and Skardzius hopes to focus more on privacy concerns in that class.

Suffering from insomnia, she’d done a sleep study at MedSleep. When exploring Bing, Skardzius asked the AI, “Who is Karen Skardzius?” Its creative response stated that she was an executive for MedSleep. Somehow, the AI had scraped her medical data.

“It shouldn’t be surprising, but it did shock me a little,” Skardzius said. “It’s indicative of how aware we need to be of how these things work.”

Creative Writing and English professor Dr. Sonnet L’Abbé heard from fellow authors that their work was used to train AI. L’Abbé tested ChatGPT to see if it was true for their work. The AI-generated poems were clichéd, generic, and not in their voice. Later, L’Abbé caught a student who used AI in their final portfolio, submitting five versions of their poem, all sounding alike.

L’Abbé enjoys literature and poetry painstakingly crafted by humans. “I feel like I’m meeting somebody else that feels, sees, and articulates the same way I do. If [computers] can provide a literary experience like that, I’d become speechless,” they said. 

They are concerned about people using AI to generate ideas instead of engaging in the physical act of writing. But they believe universities shouldn’t just ban AI without discussion. They wondered how writers could use AI while maintaining some control over it.

That’s where CREW 310/410 (Advanced Poetry Workshop) came in. L’Abbé presented three poems: a flarf piece, an AI-generated poem, and one written like AI by Manahil Bandukwala. Most students identified the AI-generated poem, calling it “cold” or “soulless.”

“I found it fascinating that we got to the point of using the word ‘soul’ to articulate something we were feeling from the choice of language,” L’Abbé remarked.

L’Abbé created an assignment in that class, asking students including Shumka and Stvns to write poems using raw text from ChatGPT. Initially disgruntled, Shumka wrote about how AI doesn’t have the freedom or joy of choosing words like humans do. “Our experience is so grounded in existing and having bodies and feelings about the language we’re using,” he said. 

Using ChatGPT for the first time, Stvns tried discussing cosmology and religion with it. She found it frustrating, with every answer sounding the same. “I wouldn’t say I loathe ChatGPT,” she said, “but I don’t see any use for it in my own practice. It exists and I don’t want anything to do with it.”       

Last semester, the Creative Writing and Theatre departments collaborated on “Two Truths and AI.” Three plays were performed, two written by students in CREW 341 (Advanced Stage Play Writing Workshop) taught by Craig Taylor and one generated using Bing.

Audiences guessed which play was which, with some interesting results; nearly half the last audience chose incorrectly. One artist admitted feeling a weird sense of shame that she couldn’t tell the scripts apart.

“border” (2023) by Maggie Stvns (visual poem). COURTESY OF: Maggie Stvns (ft. Dall-E and ChatGPT)

“border” (2023) by Maggie Stvns (visual poem).
COURTESY OF: Maggie Stvns (ft. Dall-E and ChatGPT)

 

 

 

Taylor believes generative AIkey word “generative”shouldn’t be used in creative writing. He asked students how they’d feel if they discovered the script they’d workshopped had been written by AI. Responses included “betrayal of trust” and “disappointment.”

“They’re here to explore their own creativity, not machine-generated creativity,” he said. 

While Taylor will continue experimenting with AI, he warned that it cannot replace real writers. “True artistry is not the medium, it is not normal,” he said. “The list of writers who cannot be imitated by AI is very long.”

Theatre department chair Leon Potter was stunned by the AI-generated scripts, created faster than he and Taylor could come up with prompts. Potter then wondered: Is using AI actually creating? Is the artist in charge, or the AI? 

Then there’s people using AI for things like Megan Fox deepfakes. “If somebody wants to be an asshole, online is a beautiful way for them to do it and stay anonymous,” Potter said. 

He believes the best way to limit AI-generated garbage is by having face-to-face conversations. “The greatest feeling in the world is looking at somebody and going ‘Let’s share ideas’ and ‘Disagree with me—tell me what you think about this and why.’”

Will generative AI take over the world? Will “organic” work become obsolete?

Shumka thinks it will get more popular but result in significant losses. He mentioned actors like Harrison Ford giving AI their likeness, which is ironic given that scriptwriters went on strike because of Hollywood using AI.

But that depends on reception. “If we don’t eat it up, they’ll have to stop feeding it to us,” Shumka said. “I hope people have better taste, and I believe they might.”

Stvns feels the creative community has only partially accepted AI. “People interested in maintaining the human integrity of their work are going to stay far away from AI for their entire careers,” she said. 

It’s the people creating and using AI that scares L’Abbé, but they still trust humanity will make the right decisions. “I rest my faith, hope, and values in people articulating amongst each other orally in rooms with bodies, so that we stay in touch with what we sound like to each other,” they said.

Taylor, whose books were used to train AI, suggests using lawsuits to force AI creators to pay affected artists. He believes these conversations will continue to be important and encourages creators to unite like Hollywood scriptwriters did. “That’s the only way we can force change or try to staunch the flow.” However, when authors including Sarah Silverman took AI to court for stealing their work, several of their claims were dismissed.

Potter wants to do “Two Truths and AI” again next year to see where the technology is at then. He believes it’s VIU’s job to test AI and encourage debate. “Poke it with a stick, see what happens. Does it wake up? Does it change things? What are you going to do about it?” he said.

“Two Truths and AI” (2023) poster.<br />
GENERATED VIA: Adobe Firefly<br />
COURTESY OF: Leon Potter
“Two Truths and AI” (2023) poster. 
GENERATED VIA: Adobe Firefly 
COURTESY OF: Leon Potter
“Right now, AI is just a hammer. You can do a lot of damage or you can build houses…. So let’s learn how to use it well.”

—Leon Potter, Theatre Professor

To say AI is either good or bad would be naïve, given its potential uses, advantages, and problems.

While I don’t use Jasper or ChatGPT anymore, I run blogs for my new content writing job through Duplichecker to avoid accidental plagiarism. However, I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of generative AI and will never use it in my own writing.

“We don’t have to accept this is the future,” Shumka reminds creatives. “The future of storytelling is how we choose to tell stories.” 

Stvns added, “AI will never be a human being with the emotional and experiential landscape of life. It is an immortal thing…. But you are limited in your time on earth, and that’s part of what makes art special.”

Editor

Sophia is in her third year at The Navigator and fifth (final!) year of the Creative Writing and Journalism program. Outside of The Nav, she volunteers as a Peer Helper and is doing another year of Portal Magazine. This summer, a solo trip to Japan ignited Sophia’s wanderlust. She hopes to return soon, next time with a stop in Korea.

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