Sunday, March 19, 2023

Let's Chat Some More


It’s been a couple months since the last time I played around with ChatGPT – the AI program that generates writing in response to user-provided prompts – so I decided to give it another go. In addition to writing, I teach composition and creative writing classes at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. I’m already starting to get student essays that have been entirely written by ChatGPT. They’re easy to spot. There’s an empty sameness to the way they’re organized as well as their rhythm and language choice. Plus, there’s a distinct lack of specific details. I copy the text of essays I suspect were written using ChatGPT, go to, paste the text into a window there, and the site swiftly analyzes the essay and determines if it was AI written. I’m not concerned with catching and punishing plagiarists. I want students to gain knowledge, experience, and skills, so I make them write and submit a new, original essay for the assignment (and tell them that if they use an AI text-generator again, then they’ll get a zero for the assignment).

AI text-generating programs like ChatGPT are here to stay, and they’re only going to get more sophisticated as time passes. I believe writers – both students and professionals – need to find ways to use these programs that will enhance their process as opposed to completely composing text for them. To this end, I asked ChatGPT to help me with a few writing tasks. A couple caveats before you read further: I know the results ChatGPT gave me could be taken from other writers’ work. For example, when I asked ChatGPT to provide titles for a horror story about a shark, one of the titles was “The Teeth of the Sea.” It could be a coincidence, but that’s the title of a novel I wrote for Severed Press a few years ago (although that book was about aquatic dinosaurs munching hapless humans instead of sharks). And when I posted some of my own text for ChatGPT to provide feedback on, I knew my text would become part of ChatGPT’s vast storehouse of data that it draws on. There are still a lot of uncertainties about how AI text generators provide and use information, so if you’re uncomfortable with any aspect of using them, tread carefully.

You can check out ChatGPT here:

First off, I wondered if ChatGPT could help generate ideas for stories, so I gave it a simple prompt.

Prompt: List 10 different ideas for a horror story about a man afraid to open a door.

1.     The man moves into a new house and finds a door that is locked and cannot be opened. Strange noises come from behind the door at night, and he becomes increasingly afraid of what might be on the other side.

2.     The man is trapped in a room with a door that won't budge, and he's not sure if he's being held captive or if it's all in his mind. As time passes, his sanity starts to unravel.

3.     The man is a detective investigating a case, and the only lead is a door that the victim was last seen entering. As he approaches the door, he feels a sinister presence and becomes too scared to open it.

4.     The man is a security guard in a building, and he keeps hearing strange noises coming from behind a door. When he finally musters up the courage to investigate, he discovers something that's beyond his wildest nightmares.

5.     The man is on a spaceship, and one of the airlocks is damaged. He's afraid to open the door, fearing that something might come in from outer space and kill everyone on board.

6.     The man is a prisoner in a dark cell, and there's a door that leads to an unknown part of the prison. He hears screams and whispers coming from the other side and wonders what kind of horrors lie beyond.

7.     The man is in a hotel room, and there's a door that's been boarded up. He starts to see shadows moving behind the boards and hears whispering voices that drive him to the brink of madness.

8.     The man is a scientist working on a top-secret project, and he's been warned never to open the door to the containment room. However, his curiosity gets the best of him, and he opens the door, unleashing something that he can't control.

9.     The man is a survivor of a post-apocalyptic world, and he's barricaded himself inside a building. One day, he hears a knock at the door, but he's too afraid to open it, fearing that it might be one of the monsters that now roam the world.

10.  The man is a caretaker for an old mansion, and there's a door that's been locked for decades. He starts to hear whispers and laughter coming from behind the door, and he's too afraid to investigate what might be causing the sounds.

I then wondered if I could get better ideas if I made my prompt more specific.

Prompt: List 10 highly original and creative ideas for a horror story about a man afraid to open a door.

1.     The man discovers that every time he opens the door, he is transported to an alternate reality where he is the only living person, and must find a way to escape before he is trapped there forever.

2.     The door is haunted by the ghosts of people he wronged in his past, and they torment him every time he tries to open it.

3.     The door leads to a room that is filled with his deepest fears and nightmares, and he must face them in order to conquer his fear and move on with his life.

4.     Every time he opens the door, he sees a different version of himself from a parallel universe, and the versions become more and more evil and twisted as he continues to open the door.*

5.     The man discovers that the door is a portal to an ancient evil, and he is the only one who can stop it from unleashing its horrors on the world.

6.     Every time he opens the door, he hears the voice of a little girl begging for help, but he can never find her, and eventually he realizes that the voice is coming from the door itself.*

7.     The door leads to a parallel universe where his loved ones are alive and well, but he soon realizes that they are not the same people he remembers, and they have a dark secret they are keeping from him.*

8.     The man discovers that the door is actually a gateway to hell, and every time he opens it, he unleashes a new horror upon the world.

9.     The door leads to a never-ending maze that changes every time he enters it, and he must find a way to navigate through it and escape before he is trapped inside forever.

10.  The man discovers that the door is a manifestation of his own guilt and fears, and he must confront them head-on in order to overcome his fear and move on with his life.

I then rephrased the prompt so it asked for ideas in the style of horror I often write.

Prompt: List 10 nightmarish and surreal ideas for a horror story about a man afraid to open a door.

1.     The man hears strange noises coming from behind the door, but every time he tries to open it, the handle turns into a writhing mass of tentacles that grab at his hand and try to pull him inside.

2.     The door leads to a never-ending staircase that spirals down into a pitch-black abyss, and the man is afraid that if he steps inside, he'll never be able to climb back up.*

3.     Whenever the man opens the door, he sees a different version of himself on the other side, each one more twisted and grotesque than the last.

4.     The door leads to a room filled with mirrors that reflect a version of the man that is slowly becoming more and more distorted and monstrous.

5.     The man can hear the sounds of a child crying and begging for help behind the door, but when he opens it, there's nothing there except a cold, empty void.

6.     Every time the man opens the door, he's transported to a different nightmarish dimension where he's hunted by grotesque creatures that want to tear him apart.

7.     The door leads to a room filled with countless versions of the man's dead loved ones, all of them staring at him with empty eyes and silently begging for him to join them.

8.     The man is trapped in a never-ending loop where he keeps opening the door, only to find himself back in the same place he started from, with no escape.

9.     The door leads to a labyrinth of endless corridors that twist and turn in impossible ways, and the man is constantly pursued by a shapeless, malevolent presence that wants to destroy him.

10.  Every time the man opens the door, he's forced to confront a traumatic event from his past, reliving it over and over again until he's consumed by guilt and despair.*

Response: Not all of the ideas ChatGPT provided in response to my promts are gold, of course, but they might serve as inspiration for someone, and with some tweaks, they might make for a successful story. I put asterisks after the ideas I like the best, or at least which provided some concept or image I think I might be able to do something with. I didn’t like any of the ideas in the first list, and I only liked a few in lists 2 and 3. Still, it didn’t take long to generate the ideas, and I did get some I could work with. I was surprised at how often an emotional element appeared in the ideas. I guess I didn’t expect a computer program to be able to do that, but since it draws on other people’s work for its ideas, I suppose it’s no surprise. I do wonder if any of these ideas were taken whole cloth from already published stories, and if I really wanted to use any of them, I think I’d change some elements to avoid any possible plagiarism.

I then wondered if ChatGPT could help an author solve story problems/provide suggestions for actions characters could take.

Prompt: List 10 different ways a person could escape a blazing inferno inside an office building.

1.     Use the stairs: The first and most common way to escape a blazing inferno inside an office building is to use the stairs instead of the elevators. This is because elevators can malfunction during a fire and trap people inside.

2.     Stay low: When there is a lot of smoke inside the building, staying low can help reduce smoke inhalation and increase the chances of escaping the building.

3.     Identify emergency exits: Every office building is required to have emergency exits clearly marked. Knowing where they are located can help you escape quickly in the event of a fire.

4.     Call for help: As soon as you realize there is a fire in the building, call for help immediately. This can alert emergency services and help them get to you faster.

5.     Use fire extinguishers: If the fire is small and you have access to a fire extinguisher, try to use it to put out the fire or at least keep it under control until help arrives.

6.     Use wet cloth or a mask: If you need to move through smoke-filled areas, covering your mouth and nose with a wet cloth or mask can help reduce smoke inhalation.

7.     Avoid using fans or opening windows: This can worsen the fire and increase smoke and fire spread.

8.     Communicate with others: In a chaotic situation, it is important to communicate with others and work together to escape the building safely.

9.     Check doors before opening: Before opening a door, feel it with the back of your hand. If it feels hot, do not open it as there may be fire on the other side.

10.  Stay calm: Finally, it is important to remain calm during a fire emergency. Panic can make it difficult to think clearly and make rational decisions.

Response: I could’ve found all of this information with a Google search, but ChatGPT provided it quickly and in a single list. I have no way of knowing if the information is accurate, though, so I’d probably have to do a Google search to double-check it. I do like that the list provides a number of different things to try. I could use most of these ideas in a scene with characters who are trapped inside a burning office building and struggling to escape.

Next, I asked ChatGPT for ideas for battling a monster in a story.

Prompt: A character is attacked by a mutated ape-wolf hybrid. List 10 different ways to defeat the monster.

1.     Use fire: Ape-wolf hybrids are susceptible to fire. If the character has access to a flamethrower, a Molotov cocktail, or a lighter and some gasoline, they could use these to set the monster on fire and defeat it.

2.     Use a weapon: If the character has access to a weapon, such as a gun or a bow and arrow, they could use this to shoot the monster from a distance.

3.     Use explosives: If the character has access to explosives, they could use these to blow up the monster.

4.     Use a trap: If the character can lure the monster into a trap, they could incapacitate it, allowing for a more humane and less dangerous way to defeat it.

5.     Use a poison: If the character has access to a poison that affects the monster, they could use it to weaken it and make it easier to defeat.

6.     Use a melee weapon: If the character is skilled in close combat, they could use a melee weapon, such as a sword or a spear, to defeat the monster.

7.     Use a distraction: If the character can distract the monster with something, they could create an opening to attack it or escape from it.

8.     Use a vehicle: If the character has access to a vehicle, they could use it to run over the monster or trap it.

9.     Use magic: If the character has access to magic or supernatural abilities, they could use them to defeat the monster.

10.  Use teamwork: If the character is not strong enough to defeat the monster alone, they could team up with others to take it down together.

Response: I could’ve come up with all of these ideas on my own, but ChatGPT provided them all within seconds, allowing me to make a choice and starting writing faster than I might’ve on my own. Plus, there’s no guarantee I would think of all these ideas, so the program might have given me more options to consider.

I wondered if ChatGPT could help a writer who’s stuck on how to end a story.

Prompt: Create 10 different endings to a story about a killer shark.

1.     The shark is finally caught by a group of fishermen, but not before it kills one more victim. The town holds a big celebration to commemorate the end of the terror, but everyone is left haunted by the memories of the shark's rampage.

2.     The protagonist finally manages to kill the shark in a dramatic confrontation, but at a great personal cost. They're left with both physical and emotional scars, but they're proud to have saved their community from further harm.

3.     The shark's reign of terror ends when it finally chokes on a piece of metal from a sunken ship. No one mourns the passing of the vicious predator, but they all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the danger is over.

4.     In a twist ending, it's revealed that the shark was actually a figment of the protagonist's imagination. They've been struggling with mental health issues and have been projecting their fears onto the people around them.

5.     The protagonist tries to take down the shark on their own, but they're ultimately unsuccessful. They barely escape with their life, and the shark continues to terrorize the community until a team of experts is brought in to take care of it.

6.     The shark is captured and brought to a marine park, where it becomes a beloved attraction. The protagonist struggles with conflicting feelings of satisfaction that the shark is no longer a threat and guilt over its captivity.

7.     The shark is never caught or killed, but it eventually disappears from the area. Some speculate that it was killed by a bigger predator, while others believe that it simply moved on to another hunting ground.

8.     The protagonist and the shark come face-to-face in a final showdown, but instead of fighting, they have a moment of understanding. The protagonist realizes that the shark was just acting on instinct, and the shark recognizes the protagonist as a worthy adversary. The shark swims away, and the protagonist is left with a newfound respect for the power of nature.*

9.     The shark is finally caught and killed, but the town realizes that it was just a symptom of a larger problem. The pollution and overfishing in the area have disrupted the balance of the ecosystem, leading to more and more dangerous creatures emerging. The town comes together to address the underlying issues and restore the natural balance.

10.  The shark is defeated, but the protagonist realizes that they've become addicted to the adrenaline rush of the chase. They can't go back to their normal life after experiencing the thrill of the hunt, and they become obsessed with finding new and dangerous creatures to pursue.

Response: Number 8 is my favorite. It’s ridiculous and fun.

Students in classes I teach and writers in workshops I present often ask for advice on coming up with titles. I decided to see what ChatGPT could do to help. I gave it several different versions of the same prompt to see if there were any differences in the titles it generated.

Prompt: List 10 different titles for a horror story about a killer shark.

“Jaws of Death”

“The Great White Terror”

“Blood in the Water”

“Shark Attack”

“Ocean's Nightmare”

“The Deep Blue Killer”

“Teeth of the Sea” (Here’s the title I used for one of my books that I mentioned earlier.)

“Fear Beneath the Waves”

“The Shark's Domain”

“Chumming for Victims”*

Response: The last one is my favorite here. Another gloriously ridiculous suggestion!

Prompt: List 10 highly unique and original titles for a horror story about a killer shark.

"Blood Tide: The Terror of the Deep"

"Jaws of Death: The Curse of the Great White"

"Sharkbait: A Tale of Survival and Revenge"

"The Abyssal Hunter: A Killer from the Depths"

"Deadly Currents: The Haunting of Amity Island"

"Blackwater Bay: A Shark's Realm of Fear"

"Feeding Frenzy: A Descent into Madness"

"Razor's Edge: The Hunt for the Maneater"

"Shark Island: A Nightmare Unleashed"

"Dark Waters: A Tale of Human Prey and Predator"

Response: Why these all came with subtitles, I have no idea. Some of the subtitles could stand as titles on their own, I think. None of them really jumped out at me as great titles, but most of they are serviceable.

Prompt: List 10 hilarious titles for a funny story about a killer shark.

"The Great White Chomp"*

"Jaws: The Comedic Cut"

"Sharknado's Cousin"

"The Shark Who Loved to Laugh"

"Gone Fishing (For Shark)"

"Sharkzilla vs. the Comedians"

"Shark Attack of the Killer Punchlines"

"Jaw-Dropping Laughter"*

"The Hilarious Hunt for the Shark Who Ate All the Jokes"

"Sharknado's Funniest Friend: The Killer Shark"

Response: “The Great White Chomp” is my favorite, with “Jaw-Dropping Laughter” being my second. Based on this last prompt, it seems like ChatGPT has a way to go when it comes to understanding what’s funny and what isn’t.

Next, I decided to see if ChatGPT could help improve someone’s writing. The first sample I used is a small bit of text from a PowerPoint presentation of mine, and the second is from a flash fiction piece that was published in 1998.

Prompt: Following is a sample of my writing. How can I improve it? SAMPLE: Bob had his hand on the knob, was just about to turn it, open the door, and walk outside to check the mail, when he felt the metal vibrate beneath his flesh. Not much, just a little. But it made him think that someone on the other side had put their hand on the outside knob, making it jiggle the tiniest bit. And was the metal starting to feel colder, as if a silent arctic wind caressed the knob outside? It was a ridiculous thought, but he removed his hand from the knob all the same and, without realizing it, took two steps backward.

Here are some suggestions to improve your writing sample:

Show, don't tell: Instead of telling the reader that Bob was scared, show us his physical reactions to the situation.

Use sensory details: Use more sensory details to create a vivid image in the reader's mind.

Avoid unnecessary words: Use simpler words and shorter sentences to make your writing more concise and easier to read.

Here's a revised version of your writing sample incorporating these suggestions:

Bob's hand trembled on the doorknob. He hesitated for a moment, listening to the sound of his own breathing. Suddenly, he felt a faint vibration through the metal, and his heart skipped a beat. Was someone on the other side of the door? He leaned his ear against the wood, straining to hear any sound. The metal knob felt cold under his palm, like a piece of ice. Bob took two steps back, his heart racing with fear.

In this version, I've used sensory details to create a more vivid image of the scene. I've also shown Bob's physical reaction to the situation, instead of telling the reader that he was scared. Finally, I've simplified the language and made the sentences shorter to make the writing more concise and readable.

Prompt: Here is the text of my short story "Daddy." Please analyze it and give me suggestions for how to improve it.


A few days after entering the hospital, Jill and the baby, whom they’d named Seth after Jill’s father, came home.

Jill looked deflated, a hollowed-out shell. The baby – Keith couldn’t bring himself to think of it as Seth yet, could only think of it as it – looked like a tiny collection of pink-purple wrinkles.

Jill’s mother had volunteered to stay over for a couple weeks to help with the baby, and Keith stayed out of their way while they talked about such arcane matters as breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding and cloth diapers versus disposable.

He tried to tell himself that it was over, that the baby was here and Jill had survived the night months of hosting this . . . thing, and that was all that mattered. But the first time he saw Jill breast-feeding it, he knew that it wasn’t over, that it would never be over. The thing would feed off her – and him – its entire life. If it wasn’t stopped.

That night, after both Jill and her mother were asleep, Keith stole into the nursery. He kept the light off, but he could see well enough by the Donald Duck nightlight in the wall outlet near the crib. The baby was sleeping, full of milk and contented, in its tiny blue PJ’s, beneath its tiny flannel blanket.

Keith looked down at the thing he had fathered. The thing that was determined to devour both him and Jill until there was nothing left.

It’ll be easy, the voice said. All you have to do is put your hand over its mouth and nose and hold it there for a few minutes. They’ll put it down to sudden infant death syndrome. And you and Jill will be free again.

Keith wondered how many of the babies who died of SIDS each year weren’t really babies at all, but monsters like Seth. And how many had died at the hands of their fathers.

He reached his hand toward its face, but before he could touch it, the thing woke up and started to squall. He had to get it quieted down before Jill and her mother woke.

He picked up the baby and rested its head on his shoulder.

“Shut up,” he whispered, rocking it.

The thing’s mewling subsided as it snuggled against him. He felt a tingling in his chest and arm, and he knew the thing was using its powers on him, draining him, stealing his life. He was about to throw it across the room when he was suddenly filled with love for the tiny mass of flesh he held. For his son. For Seth.

He sat down in the chair in the corner and continued to rock his boy. He knew Seth had used his powers to make Keith love him, could even now feel Seth taking from him, drawing life into his tiny body. Keith would grow old and gray while Seth grew tall and strong. And one day Keith would die and Seth would live on.

As Keith felt the weariness of new fatherhood overtake him, he found that he didn’t really mind so much anymore. In fact, he realized with a dull, muted horror that was already fading, it felt pretty damn good.

And in his daddy’s arms, little Seth gurgled happily.

The short story "Daddy" effectively creates a sense of tension and unease through its depiction of Keith's conflicted feelings towards his newborn son. However, there are a few areas where the story could be improved:

Develop the characters: The story could benefit from further developing the characters of Jill and Keith. We don't get a sense of their personalities, their relationship, or their history. This would add depth to the story and make the reader more invested in the characters' fates.

Clarify the supernatural elements: The story hints at supernatural powers possessed by the baby, but this aspect is not fully explored or explained. Providing more clarity on this element would enhance the story's impact and give it more resonance.

Show, don't tell: The story relies heavily on Keith's inner monologue to convey his feelings towards the baby. While this can be effective, it would be even more powerful to show his emotions through his actions and interactions with the other characters.

Consider the implications: The story ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, with Keith coming to accept his son's powers and the drain they place on him. However, the story does not explore the wider implications of this revelation. Does Keith continue to resent the baby? Does he become complicit in its draining of his life force? These are interesting questions that could be further explored.

In summary, the story could be improved by developing the characters, clarifying the supernatural elements, showing rather than telling, and exploring the wider implications of the story's events.

Response: I’m not sure that the feedback on the doorknob scene helped much, but it was interesting to see that the program suggested expanding the story. It didn’t know the piece was supposed to short because it’s flash fiction. And I was surprised that the program recognized the ambiguity of the ending (not that I would change it because that’s the way I wanted it). Still, for writers who don’t have any beta readers, ChatGPT could prove an effective feedback tool. But as I mentioned earlier, I have no idea how the text I entered might be used later by ChatGPT, so I might be hesitant to share it with the program.

I then wondered if ChatGPT could help someone outline a story. I gave the program 10 very random story events to see what it could do with them.

Prompt: Please arrange these 10 story events into a coherent outline I can use to write the story. 1. A young boy dies by drowning in a pond. 2. A possessed car runs over the boy's dog. 3. The boy's sister realizes she is an android sent from the future to kill her brother. 4. A hurricane hits the area. 5. A major movie star wants to make a film out of these events. 6. All the owls in the world disappear at the same time. 7. It's discovered that the hurricane is in fact God. 8. Everyone on Earth realizes smoking is bad and quits smoking. 8. A sentient sudoku game saves the day. 9. A steam locomotive transforms into a robot and fights the bad buys. 10. It's discovered the boy's adult self came from the future to kill his younger self.

Sure, here's an outline based on the ten story events you provided:

I. Introduction

A. Setting the scene: a small town in the present day

B. Introducing the main characters: the boy, his sister, and their dog

II. Tragic Events Unfold

A. The boy dies by drowning in a pond

B. A possessed car runs over the boy's dog

C. The community is left reeling from the tragedies

III. The Unusual Occurrences Begin

A. The boy's sister discovers she is an android from the future

B. All the owls in the world disappear simultaneously

C. A hurricane hits the area

IV. The Supernatural Reveals Itself

A. It's discovered that the hurricane is, in fact, God

B. The community is forced to grapple with the implications of this revelation

C. A major movie star expresses interest in making a film about these events

V. The Quest for Answers Continues

A. Everyone on Earth realizes smoking is bad and quits smoking

B. A sentient sudoku game somehow saves the day

C. A steam locomotive transforms into a robot and fights the bad guys

VI. The Shocking Twist

A. The boy's adult self is revealed to have traveled back in time to kill his younger self

B. The sister and the community must decide how to respond to this revelation

VII. Conclusion

A. The community begins to heal and rebuild

B. The sister contemplates her existence as an android

C. The movie star's film is released, and the events become a part of popular culture.

Response: I was surprised by how well ChatGPT did with the bizarre elements I gave it. If I’d given it elements that were actually related, it might well have provided me with an outline I could use to draft a story, or at least one that would give me a structure to work with, one that I could rearrange as I saw fit.

Whenever I do a class or workshop on publishing, we eventually talk about branding statements. I wondered if ChatGPT could help generate some for me. I have a terrible time coming up with this kind of thing for myself. I decide to give the program some review quotes of my work to draw upon. You could ask some friends or readers to provide descriptions of your work for you and give those to the program to work with.

Prompt: Create 5 separate branding statements for me as a horror writer, each no longer than 5 words, based on these reviewers' comments on my work. (I then posted several review quotes taken from a long list of ones I’ve saved over the years.)

Surreal horror mastermind.

Hardcore, erotic, surreal horror.

Refreshingly different horror fiction.

Compelling and haunting horror.

Unsettling horror that shocks.

Surreal horror, hyper-real terror.

Dark, disturbing, genre-bending terror.*

New evil, classic horror vibe.

Emotionally charged horror storytelling.

Unnerving finesse, surreal dread.

Same prompt, but based on my entire list of review quotes, and I asked for 20 branding statements this time.

Surreal horror at its finest*

Blurring reality and nightmare*

Horror that unsettles you

Compelling characters, dangerous horrors*

Unholy collaboration of art and perversion* (This one’s hysterical!)

Deeply themed with a sly smile

A ride into the darkness

Visually stunning horror

A new force in horror

The leading surrealist horror writer

Fast-paced, highly entertaining horror*

Grisly splatterpunk with a twist

Deeply unsettling horror

Bizarre, weird, intriguing horror

Rich with imagination, haunting imagery

Horror that shocks to the core

Hyper-real horror with surreal twists

Horror that keeps you on the edge of your seat

Horror that you can't put down

Original, deeply unsettling horror*

A master of descriptive language

Horror that explores the human psyche

Horror that sticks with you

Surreal horror that lingers

Weird fiction meets extreme horror* (This one is probably my favorite overall, and one I might actually use.)

Horror that defies genre expectations

Horror that terrifies and thrills

Gory horror with original storylines

Surreal horror that is highly entertaining

Horror that blends humor and scares.

Response: Some of the branding statement suggestions are awkward and clunky, but some could work well, and many of them might work with some tinkering. I put asterisks next to my favorites.

Next, I asked ChatGPT to help with something that I find nearly impossible to do – come up with comp titles for my fiction (especially my weird-ass surreal horror novels).

Prompt: Create a list of twenty comp titles based on this synopsis of my novel WE WILL RISE:

In Echo Hill, Ohio, the dead begin to reappear, manifesting in various forms, from classic ghosts and poltergeists, to physical undead and bizarre apparitions for which there is no name. These malign spirits attack the living, tormenting and ultimately killing them in order to add more recruits to their spectral ranks.

A group of survivors come together after the initial attack, all plagued by different ghostly apparitions of their own. Can they make it out of Echo Hill alive? And if so, will they still be sane? Or will they die and join the ranks of the vengeful dead?

"The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

"The Shining" by Stephen King

"Pet Sematary" by Stephen King

"The Returned" by Jason Mott

"The Sixth Sense" (film)

"The Ring" (film)

"The Conjuring" (film)

"The Ghost Bride" by Yangsze Choo

"The Passage" by Justin Cronin

"The Strain" by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

"The Walking Dead" (comic series and TV show)

"World War Z" by Max Brooks

"The Girl with All the Gifts" by M.R. Carey

"The Last of Us" (video game)

"The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty

"Rosemary's Baby" by Ira Levin

"The Silence of the Lambs" by Thomas Harris

"American Horror Story" (TV show)

"Stranger Things" (TV show)

"Dark" (TV show)

Response: This is the motherfucking jackpot for me! Not all of these works relate well enough to We Will Rise, but enough of them do. If I did this again, I’d ask ChatGPT to only list works that have appeared in the last five years and see what sort of results I’d get. Out of all the things I tried with ChatGPT this time, I will definitely use the program to help with come up with comp titles in the future.

I then decided to see if ChatGPT could help generate some teaching materials.

Prompt: Create a feedback sheet a reader could use to critique a horror story.

Sure, here is a feedback sheet a reader could use to critique a horror story:


Title of the Story:




Please rate the following aspects of the story on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent:

1.     Plot:

2.     Characters:

3.     Setting:

4.     Dialogue:

5.     Pacing:

6.     Suspense:

7.     Fear factor:

8.     Ending:

Please provide additional comments on the following:

1.     What did you like most about the story?

2.     What did you like least about the story?

3.     Was the story believable? Why or why not?

4.     Did the story scare you? If so, which parts were the scariest?

5.     Were there any elements of the story that were confusing or unclear?

6.     Did the story keep your attention throughout? If not, which parts lost your interest?

7.     Were there any parts of the story that you found particularly cliché or unoriginal?

8.     Did the story have a satisfying conclusion? If not, how could it have been improved?

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. Your input is valuable in helping the author improve their work.

Response: This is a bit generic but effective enough. I could have students use ChatGPT to create their own feedback sheets that they give to readers to critique their work. I then asked the program to create a more advanced feedback tool.

Prompt: Create an advanced feedback sheet a reader could use to critique a horror story:

Sure, here's an advanced feedback sheet that a reader could use to critique a horror story:

  1. Plot:

Did the story have a clear and engaging plot?

Were there any confusing or slow parts in the story?

Did the story flow well from beginning to end?

Was the climax of the story satisfying?

  1. Characters:

Were the characters well-developed and believable?

Did the characters' actions and motivations make sense?

Were there any characters that you found particularly interesting or memorable?

Were there any characters that you found to be cliché or unoriginal?

  1. Setting:

Was the setting described in enough detail to create a vivid image in your mind?

Did the setting contribute to the overall mood and atmosphere of the story?

Was there anything about the setting that you found confusing or inconsistent?

  1. Horror elements:

Were the horror elements effective in creating a sense of fear or unease?

Did the story rely too heavily on jump scares or gore, or was there a good balance of different types of horror?

Were there any original or creative elements in the story that stood out to you?

Did the story use any horror tropes or clichés in a fresh or interesting way?

Writing style:

Was the writing style engaging and easy to read?

Did the author use language effectively to create a mood or atmosphere?

Were there any parts of the story that felt overwritten or repetitive?

Did the author use any literary devices (metaphors, symbolism, etc.) effectively?

  1. Overall impression:

Did you enjoy reading the story?

Would you recommend this story to others?

Was there anything that you found particularly noteworthy or memorable about the story?

Is there anything you would suggest the author do differently in future stories?

Feel free to use this feedback sheet to critique any horror story you read, and don't be afraid to provide specific examples to support your feedback.

Response: This one’s better than the first. I found it interesting that the program created items that could be used to give feedback on any type of story and then provided a section specifically focused on examining horror elements.

Could ChatGPT help someone create a workshop presentation?

Prompt: Create an outline with a workshop presentation on how to write effectively with an immersive character point of view.

I. Introduction

A. Definition of immersive character point of view

B. Importance of using immersive character point of view in writing

C. Objectives of the workshop

II. Understanding Immersive Character Point of View

A. Definition and Types

1. First-Person Point of View

2. Third-Person Point of View

B. Advantages of Immersive Character Point of View

1. Builds Empathy

2. Provides a Deeper Understanding of Characters

3. Enhances Reader Engagement

III. Techniques for Writing Effectively with an Immersive Character Point of View

A. Building Believable Characters

1. Understanding Character Traits

2. Using Dialogue to Develop Character

B. Creating a Sense of Place

1. Using Sensory Detail

2. Describing Setting through the Character’s Eyes

C. Balancing Narrative Distance 1. Using Close and Distant Points of View

2. Avoiding Head-Hopping

IV. Tips for Practicing Immersive Character Point of View

A. Writing Exercises

1. First-Person Point of View Exercise

2. Third-Person Point of View Exercise

B. Reading Examples

1. Analyzing Examples of Effective Character Point of View

2. Identifying Techniques Used in Literature

V. Conclusion

A. Recap of Key Points

B. Final Thoughts on Using Immersive Character Point of View

C. Call-to-Action for Workshop Attendees to Practice Immersive Character Point of View

Response: Since I’ve taught for almost 40 years, I’d want to tweak the outline for my own purposes, but this function could be a boon to writers who’ve had little teaching experience and would like help creating a workshop presentation. I imagine I could provide a list of elements for ChatGPT to include in a workshop outline so it’s more closely tailored to my specific needs.

What about writing exercises?

Prompt: Create 5 horror-writing exercises that could be used in a creative writing class or workshop.

Start with a mundane or ordinary scenario, such as waiting for a bus or grocery shopping. Then, introduce an eerie or unsettling element, such as a strange figure following the protagonist or a bloody handprint on a grocery item. Encourage students to build tension and suspense as they reveal the horror lurking within an everyday experience.

Challenge students to create a story where the true terror is never explicitly shown or named. Instead, students must rely on atmosphere, tension, and implication to evoke fear in the reader. Encourage students to experiment with descriptions of sensory experiences, such as smells, sounds, and tactile sensations, to create an unsettling mood.

Have students create a horror story from the perspective of a seemingly benign object or creature, such as a doll or a spider. The challenge is to make the reader empathize with the object or creature while also making them feel terrified of it. This exercise can be especially useful for practicing the use of point of view to create tension and suspense.

Encourage students to play with the idea of the uncanny by creating a horror story where the protagonist becomes increasingly uncertain of their own reality. For example, they may start to question if they are dreaming, if they are being gaslit, or if they are losing their mind. This exercise can be a great opportunity for students to experiment with unreliable narrators and create a sense of psychological horror.

Ask students to write a horror story that is heavily influenced by a specific cultural or historical context, such as a ghost story from a particular region or a horror story set during a specific time period. This exercise can encourage students to research and draw inspiration from different cultures and time periods while also practicing the art of world-building and creating an immersive setting.

Response: While I could come up with my own exercises, what I like about some of these is that there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have thought of them on my own. This function could help writers with little teaching experience create exercises for classes and workshops, or at least give them ideas to create their own exercises.

In Conclusion

We can debate whether programs like ChatGPT – even when used like I have for this blog entry – verge on plagiarism, or at the very least stifle creativity and growth. But I think if we can learn how to use AI text generators as aids to creativity instead of replacements for it, they can be valuable tools.

At least I won’t have to stress about coming up with goddamned comp titles now!


A Hunter Called Night Available for Preorder

 My next novel for Flame Tree Press is A Hunter Called Night. It’ll be out May 9, 2023, and it’s available to pre-order now! Early reviews have been positive so far, with Melanie at Goodreads saying, “This was such a fun, fast-paced, action-packed novel. I could not put it down. It was a brilliant mix of fantasy and thriller.” And Jeremy Fowler, also at Goodreads, says, “It's gory, it's ghastly, and it's great!” (Goodreads)




A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.


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New Audiobook Released: Love, Death, and Madness

 Available for the first time together, three of Tim Waggoner's award-nominated novellas of horror fiction.


The Winter Box


Winner of the 2017 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction


It’s Todd and Heather’s 21st anniversary. A blizzard rages outside their home, but it’s far colder inside. Their marriage is falling apart, the love they once shared gone, in its place only bitter resentment. As the night wears on, strange things start to happen in their house—bad things. If they can work together, they might find a way to survive until morning...but only if they don’t open the Winter Box.


A Kiss of Thrones


Finalist of the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction


Lonny lost his beloved sister Delia thirty years ago. Since then, he’s sacrificed many lives in order to return her to the world of the living, but without success.


His next target is Julia, a young women with a unfulfilled marriage and a passion for ’80s horror films. She will soon discover that not only is real life more complicated than the movies, it’s far more terrifying.


The Men Upstairs


Finalist of the 2012 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella


He finds her crying in the lobby of a movie theater and takes her home to his apartment, a strange, beautiful woman with no last name, a mysterious past, and a powerful sexual allure. He wants her, and she wants him. There's only one problem: the Men Upstairs. She used to belong to them—and they'll do anything to get her back.


Narrated by Gary Noon, who’s done a fabulous job bringing to life a number of my previous audiobooks!


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Scheduled Appearances


Authorcon 2. Williamsburg, Virgina: March 31-April 2


Stokercon. Pittsburgh: June 15-18


Where to Find Me Online


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Twitter: @timwaggoner




Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe




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