Sudowrite: an AI writer's assistant

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a look at the AI writer's assistant program, Sudowrite.

Here are the opening paragraphs of my forthcoming Christmas story, Mother Christmas, to be posted mid-December. How would a state-of-the-art, GPT-3 powered AI writing assistant carry the narrative on?

This is how I start:


Mother Christmas

Long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer… what? 

Abuse? Intrusiveness? More tedium?

It’s been another quiet afternoon. Times are certainly hard in retail this joyous season. The Great Stagnation, they’re calling it.

But hark! First the echoing clacks of shoes on marble, then these three emerge around the corner to my left, tired refugees from the mall’s lengthy main aisle. Mummy, Daddy and Teenage Boy. Their clothes are dowdy and unfashionable: meet the drabs.


I paste this into Sudowrite (free trial) and ask it to continue. It offers me three choices. Here's its best effort.


The boy is doing his best to look cool, but he’s having trouble hiding the fact that he’s bored out of his mind. He’s got that glazed expression that says ‘My life is so lame.’

And it is.

He might play football for his school, he might have a couple of mates, he might have a girlfriend… but he has no idea what it means to be alive. His world has been boxed in by rules and regulations. He’s not allowed to explore new frontiers, to take risks.

It’s just a matter of time before he rebels. Then he’ll be right back here on the couch next to yours truly, joining the other drabs, the whole miserable army of them.

The family drabs are followed by the sole remaining customer of the day. She’s wearing a jacket of some kind on top of a formal-looking dress - a rare mix for this town, let alone this time of year. She’s a special one. Not part of the drab folk. You can tell.

She approaches the counter with a spring in her step, the only customer who’s not traipsing through this place like a cross between a junkie and someone who’s just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

She’s quite pretty, actually, if you like the wide-mouthed, round-eyed type.


I think that’s pretty creditable actually, though it's not the way I was taking the story. It’s all been synthesised by the program, none of it copied wholesale from the net. The style is quite zingy, the descriptions fresh.

The program has a bunch of tools. It will elaborate descriptions. So if I select: 'mall’s lengthy main aisle', Sudowrite offers ten possibilities; here are the first three:


1. The aisles of the mall are long and meandering, stretching as far as the eye can see. They have a wide vista that gives a bird’s eye view of the mall. The windows that line the aisles are covered in frost. They’re as hard as ice.

2. The air around the mall has a distinct yet not unpleasant odor. In the midst of all this Christmas cheer, you notice a faint yet pungent smell. You can taste the freshness of holiday spices and marzipan and anise and oatmeal and honey and clove and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and all the other things that make you think of Christmas.

3. The main aisle of the mall is worn down by age and use. It’s polished by the feet of shoppers, but the tread marks are long gone.


Other tools include offering you twists in your story, developing characters and even writing poems. I haven’t tried all these functions.

So what do I think? 

If you treat it as a souped-up Thesaurus it’s easy to see the value (although at $20 per month the subscription is expensive). At the paragraph level it’s producing good material which is easy to treat as a first draft. You get endless new texts with a press of the ‘Wormhole’ button.

What it cannot do is coherence. The things the author cares about: the consistent evolution of character, plot dynamics and the use of everything to achieve the desired effect; all this vanishes when control is transferred to Sudowrite or similar GPT-3 based tools.

An obvious application is what you might call coerced writing: those essays you have to hand in, those stereotypical pieces needed for boss or brochure. Where you don’t care about the specifics of the text, where you feel no personal involvement… well, this tool sure adds value. But teachers beware!


Let me add a more technical thought. I’m not an expert in ‘autoregressive language models’. I know something about deep-learning systems. My own mental model of Sudowrite and its brethren is that by training on massive Internet text corpora, it has synthesised high-level concepts spanning paragraphs of text. It’s this multi-sentence conceptual competence which accounts for its meaningful paragraphs. 

We see something similar in game-playing programs such as AlphaZero which beat human champions at Go and Chess with élan. The concepts are not isolated pearls; they cohere into strategies.

We’re not yet at Orwell’s vision of novel-writing machines churning out prole-fiction as in 1984; but nor do we seem that far from it.

Finally, here’s a Sudowrite poem: my title, my first two lines as seed.


A girl like you

You must, he said, have many carefree offers
Are you an actress or a catwalk model?

No, I'm not, she said. “I am the girl of your dreams.
I know all this because I am your interlocutor.
You are the boy of mine, and I’m the girl like you.

I am the girl of your dreams, she said.
My eyes are blue or green or gray,
My hair is brown, red, blonde, or black.
I am tall or short.

I am rich or poor, smart, athletic, funny, or serious.
I may be your childhood sweetheart or the girl next door.

I may be your high school or college girlfriend.
I can be your lover, friend, muse, soulmate.
I am the girl of your dreams, and you are the boy of mine."


I've read a lot worse.

Submitted: November 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 AdamCarlton. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



That's pretty cool!

Tue, November 30th, 2021 9:35pm


It's certainly impressive. Using it anyone could produce an unbounded number of postable-quality poems and flash-fiction pieces a day. What's not too like? ;(

They should have a cheaper, low-use version for those of us who might use it occasionally as a tool.

Wed, December 1st, 2021 3:04am

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