Adventures with Machine Learning for Fiction Writing

One part of my head is firmly planted in technology, while another is constantly working on my side-projects such as fiction writing. Sometimes those things cross into each other - I like to imagine stories and one of these sessions was about a person working a menial job and slowly realizing that they were a small piece in a Neural Network, they keep trying to solve the same problem in their life, each time trying something different, and as they begin to solve it and become aware to their reality, the AI controlling everything begins to crumble. A bit like The Matrix meets The Net.

OR something like that...

The other key ingredient in this novel idea would be to have an actual AI write parts of the book and see if people could tell. The beginning would be written entirely by myself, with the AI slowly fading in like intrusive thoughts in between the narrative, and finally taking over the whole story.

What I didn't know was if that was technically possible or if I was seeing too much fiction in my science fiction.

And so the following is an account of my adventures trying to harness the current state of Machine Learning and make use of for my project.


In early 2019, the company OpenAI released a new Machine Learning model called GPT-2. Claiming that it was so good at text generation that they had to reduce the size of the model offered to the public for safety and ethical reasons. Right away this one felt like the real deal, I had found a half dozen of random student projects on github, trying to DIY different style of GANs or RNNs for text generation, but none of them felt like they would be powerful enough. In addition to the hype around gpt-2, there were a number of helpful articles and walk-throughs on how to get started using it, and or training it on new data. This is what I really wanted, the ability to train the model on previous and highly rated fiction novels to see if it could compete.

Data Wrangling

To train any ML model you need data, and lots of it + plus time and a hearty GPU. After the side quest of acquiring the proper hardware and getting CUDA/tensorflow setup, I was ready to tackle the Data part. Over the years I've collected a hefty amount of ebooks. For this project, I needed more, so I began seeking out alternative sources until I had over 1000 different books from Fantasy and SciFI.

All of these books came in either epub format, .lit (?) or a flat PDF, so the task was to convert all of those to text, which then could be imported into a binary blob for training. I wrote a script, ( ) to handle this task, but what I learned is that no 2 ebooks are the same, with different headings, section names, etc. It's almost infeasible to select just "Chapter 1" and output that, as in most cases that could be section 002, or 004, or any number really. First pass was to output the full book, into individual text files.

I want to pause here and give a big shout out to Gwern, the creator of and the gpt-2-poetry project. His work allowed me and many others to follow in his footsteps and use this awesome technology. User nsheppard's Git repo seems to be the best for training GPT-2 on new data.

$ ls -l ../data_origs/originals/txt_proc/*.txt | wc -l
$ PYTHONPATH=src python3 ../data_origs/originals/txt_proc/ novels.npz
# takes like 15 minutes with the large dataset
$ PYTHONPATH=src python3 --model_name 117M --dataset novels.npz --save_every 1000 --sample_every 100 --run_name novel1
Loading dataset...
dataset has 38779104 tokens
[16 | 6.98] loss=3.34 avg=3.34
[17 | 8.45] loss=3.25 avg=3.30
[18 | 9.93] loss=3.29 avg=3.29
[19 | 11.42] loss=3.27 avg=3.29
[20 | 12.90] loss=3.22 avg=3.27
[21 | 14.38] loss=3.20 avg=3.26
99 | 131.98] loss=3.21 avg=3.22
======== SAMPLE 1 ========
ok to them, he thought.  
They turned around—and the girl turned, and she fell.  
Hitting a hard wall, he pulled a gun from her waist, and fired at her.  
She did not dare go to ground.  
The girl was unconscious.  
Her breathing was heavy, and she did not speak.  
She saw the light of a flash in the sky.  
A massive star would have exploded that day.The next day she and Alia were 
working with the man who lived in a forest,and in the morning she saw that 
it had exploded and the town had fallen.  
She recognized it as the village where her brothers lived.  
It was small and quiet here, but she could tell that men had been there 
before the town's fall.  
She had a hard time telling the difference between what might have been the 
town and the village.  
They were very far away, near the old town, but they were near what she 
called the 'gates.  
She had her head above the ground as well, and she did not want to go in 
and shoot anyone.  
She had left her weapon behind, and she went to the town gate.  
She looked out of the gate, and she saw that there were two men hiding 
beneath a stone-thick fence.  
She took off her gloves, and saw that they were carrying the two men.  
She stood before them.  
Her eyes were dark and wide, and she did not dare go in.  
She saw him running toward the fence, and she did not dare go in on him.
She made her way through a man's door, and saw that he was carrying an iron.  
With her pistol, she fired at him.  
With the gun and the iron gun that was with her, she shot him in a single 
blow, and the man who had shot him stood 
up and ran toward her.And the same thing happened to her brothers and 
sisters—where are you?She went out to the woods, knowing she had to.  
With a knife and a saw, she started into the woods, aiming toward the 
hills below.  
Some day she and Alia had got back down the road, and her brothers and 
sisters saw her go.And she stood in the open, and she thought, I am going 
to take you back down the road.  
It was going to be a long day, and she knew what it was.  

# and between 24 and 48 hours later it's been properly cooked.

For all trained models, I used the same couple of statements to see what results I would get.

“What am I missing?” He asked to the machine before him. The machine was a metal contraption with a sphere in the center. If his machine could keep that sphere in the center without external energy sources, he would achieve the improbable. Infinite Energy.

$ python3 src/ --model_name novel1 --temperature 0.9 --top_k 30
model prompt >>> “What am I missing?” He asked to the machine before him. The machine was a metal contraption with a 
sphere in the center. If his machine could keep that sphere in the center without external energy sources, he would 
achieve the improbable. Infinite Energy.
======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================

The infinite.
He had no other answer; why was there no other thing to get him to understand? All he knew now about the existence of the infinite was — could NOT be.
He looked around, saw it, saw the other world outside, and saw it, and it held him and him, and he saw, and felt it, and yet it did not release him to the world.
This was a machine.
This was a machine belonging to the agency of others, of all the universes, and all the entities that comprised it. “We are not brothers,” the machine said.
“We are not like other men.
We are not as we were.”The man had no words for “brother” but he had said that, and the machine responded by clicking.
The machine had to know the world.
Could he guess what it would make of his friends? They were holding him in a circle of three, not two.
The circle of three was larger than the one at which he was holding.
“Your friends are not the only entities in existence who are connected to you,” the machine told him.
“They have been here before and they are still here.
They are the Earths, the Great Sphere, that we know of you.
They will be all the way to Earth.
They will stand in the clearing before you.”“It is a prophecy of mine,” the man said, feeling the machine’s presence.
“That we must be ready.” His hand flapped like the hand of a lover.“All in good time,” the machine said.
“For the Balance.”He was, of course, not a great man, but his spirit was tender.
He knew that the Balance was behind everything.
His world was not balanced on a single step.
He’d never been any great in any person, but it seemed that the great Balance had always been balanced on a single step, before they’d cut that one off.
He’d never known that he had ever been born a human, but he felt that balance with a mortal might be impossible

As one can see, it “works” but there’s definitely room for improvement. I see a lot of circular conversations, repeated phrases and sometime, absolute copy/paste from one of the src stories instead of something new.

I'll state here again, this is where I wasn't sure if I was expecting too much of the technology or if I should be happy with the current results and learn to love the quirks.

Phase 2...let's try all the things

As any real or pretend scientist will tell you, it can be hard to find the point at which enough is enough and to let the results be as they are, and so I continued to break down my data into different sizes and shapes, sometimes only using the first few chapters instead of the entire book, or outputting the books into one mega text file, instead of individual files. A few attempts using only a single author but their entire catalogue. Over the course of a few weeks, I would setup the data in the evening, start the training, and in the morning decide if it was doing well enough to continue or stop and try something else. But with all that effort and fun, I never really got better results than the first training. I do think I need better formatted data, but at this point I'm not sure how to achieve that. But I will keep trying, and eventually I do believe I'll have something I can work with to make this sci-fi daydream become a real novel.


python3 src/ --model_name fantasy1 --temperature 0.9 --top_k 30
Model prompt >>> “What am I missing?” He asked to the machine before him. The machine was a metal contraption with a 
sphere in the center. If his machine could keep that sphere in the center without external energy sources, he would 
achieve the improbable. Infinite Energy.
======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================
The object itself was a tiny cube; it was not large enough to reach into the center of the sphere to cause it to 
collapse. As if it were an egg.

The contraption was the first I encountered. “How do they do it?” He asked as he moved over it.

“The best I can do is to just do it without being able to do anything else with the machine.” As he pointed toward the object, the object began to slide outward.

The contraption was a large, white, circular sphere that had two sides. They were the corners of the ballista. It was a large, circular ballista. The ballista moved with its axis, and this time it was not moving with the other side. The two halves of the sphere were at the same time, and the machine seemed to be moving along some sort of horizontal axis.

When I stood there, I wondered what the purpose of the contraption was, but it was obvious. The object was being moved, as if through a series of concentric circles. It felt as if the machine was being moved. And then, just as the contraption began to move, the object suddenly vanished.

“I see. I see.” I said to the machine as I moved over the ballista.

“Oh. That . . .” The object vanished.

“Why don’t you go to the other side?” I asked him.

“I know it would be a waste to bring that sphere to the other side.”

“But why?”

“Because, just because something is gone, it doesn’t mean nothing. I can do something that I can do without touching anything.”

“Well, we need to go to it,” I said.

“Then go to it,” he said back.

“We need to go to that side.” I pointed over the machine.

“We are in a room,” he said.

“The right side is where the ballista was moving,” I said.

“The left,” he said.

“I’m sure.”

“The machine can do everything,” he said.


$ python3 src/ --model_name fantasy2 --temperature 0.9 --top_k 30
What am I missing?” He asked to the machine before him. The machine was a metal contraption with a sphere in 
the center. If his machine could keep that sphere in the center without external energy sources, he would achieve 
the improbable. Infinite Energy.
======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================
 He’d built it himself.

His arm grew numb, then it stopped, and he felt a chill and the feel of something cold, something as solid as the earth. His heart stopped, and his lungs were already failing. He tried to turn his head to look at the ceiling—it was a very tall thing, about forty feet tall. It had a dome, like the dome in the cavern outside the city itself, where air rose above it. It would have been easy to take off a piece of it just then, and take up two or three of its sides just to reach the dome. He felt the weight of the thing falling off in the air like a falling horse. Just then something slammed into it, a rock like a rock thrown back a few feet. It slammed against his arm and, somehow, he fell.

He felt the cold air, and he felt its bite. It was a cold, heavy, strong thing. He had to pull himself up. He was nearly at the top of the dome when the rock hit. He didn’t have to pull back, not even to the point where he didn’t feel the whole thing hit. He was suddenly falling again. It stopped, and he let out a small cry.

“No! No!”

The air was so cold, he was almost choking.


His hands were freezing so badly that he couldn’t get up. He was holding his head against the dome, and his lungs were going to shut down. As he started to get up, something hit him again. It was a big rock, and it smashed out at him, one big chunk of stone falling on top of him and hitting the floor, hitting the ceiling, hitting the window of the cellar, and hitting all of them down, right up to the very top and leaving him on his face. He struggled up and found his arm and began to struggle.

A big stone hit him in the face, hard, and he was not sure why—the thing hit his face in a terrible collision. It hit his chest and nose, and his mouth opened. He started to breathe hard, and his chest started growing larger and bigger, and his mouth came out of him, and he tried to open his mouth, to tell the thing what to do. It wouldn’t, but something else hit him in the throat.

Steven King Books

$ python3 src/ --model_name steve1 --temperature 0.9 --top_k 30
Model prompt >>> "What am I missing?” He asked to the machine before him. The machine was a metal contraption with a 
sphere in the center. If his machine could keep that sphere in the center without external energy sources, he would 
achieve the improbable. Infinite Energy.
======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================

“Thank you, Mr. Potter.”

The machine was a little too small to put the cylinder up on its own, but it did what it was supposed to do, which was to put the cylinder in place on the machine. Because the machine could move so fast, it could not be kept moving by some weird mechanical device. And as far more than three other machines had ever been put into the center of the machine, it had managed to keep it moving on its own. That was the point, and as of now it was the only one left to do so.

“You’re right, and it did its job, but my machine is not a machine.”

“Why do you have to worry about that?”

“I have no need for that.”

The machine seemed to shake and twitching slightly as it did so. It was a little too small to make the cylinder move up and down, but that didn’t stop it from moving.

It held the cylinder in place and started moving. That was the only thing it could do, and it was not a much bigger machine.

“I want to say a few words,”

The machine seemed to move and to start moving as soon as it was moved. It didn’t stop moving, but it changed. It had changed its head, got its hands on its legs and began to pull them at the same time to make it move. It was moving at three hundred miles a second on its own.

“I want to say a few words,” the robot said at long last.

It did so with the same sudden and sudden speed of its original motion, but it could have stopped now, and the machine would still have been moving. The machine would have moved faster than it was now, but no more.

“What do I do now?”

“I want to say a few words,” the robot asked.

It did so with a very small smile. The robot had a little piece of the machine in its hands and had started to pick it up, putting it on its shoulders and making it fly up.

“I want to say a few words,” the robot said. It did so, and with a small smile.

The robot turned as fast as it could.

117M - The original gpt-2

Here are results with the stock gpt-2 model 117M

Model prompt >>> "What am I missing?” He asked to the machine before him. The machine was a metal contraption with a 
sphere in the center. If his machine could keep that sphere in the center without external energy sources, he would 
achieve the improbable. Infinite Energy.
======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================

When she looked at him, his face had turned dark. It was dark and cold, but she kept the smile on her smile.

“I’ve seen you before, don’t get me wrong. I’ve met you before. But I am not like you. I am not as tall as you.”

A smile began to appear on the white-robed woman’s face, and then he let out a soft sigh. She smiled back, she smiled back… but then she stopped.

“I’ve become like you. I’ve lost my sense of right and wrong.” He said in a voice very similar to her smile that he had been following. He said that he would go back to that situation if he did not think that she was trying to do him harm, but that she did not understand him at all and was simply trying to kill him. The girl looked even more pale, not like she had taken on a human form. At this point, she started crying out in frustration and crying out in pain.

But you were just too strong…”

A voice from the machine spoke, and the girl froze, her eyes widened. She was holding him by the hand, and he was trembling, his shoulders sagging, his face trembling. However, the words were not a threat, but something to her. “I’m sorry about that.”

She nodded, and the machine slowly took on a voice, and the girl cried out again. However, no one spoke, and the voice was silent for a few short seconds.

“I know you want to kill me, and I know you want to kill me, and I know you want to kill me. But I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry we didn’t live in peace, for the past ten years, and for now. I want to see you grow up and find your purpose, and I want to see you understand that I’m not a robot, who’s just a little girl who wanted a place to live. I want to see you understand that you need to find happiness, and I want to see you see the joy that you will have with humans, and that you will live with everyone else who lives.”

The machine slowly began to work on his hands.

“And now you want to kill me?”

“No, I want my life to be worth anything, even if it means the end of your life.” The girl shook her head

And that is the story so far on my adventure with Machine Learning for fiction writing. So as one can see, at least the way I've got it setup, it isn't ready for prime time, but given more time and understanding on my part, I think it still has a lot of potential. Something I will keep experimenting with and building until I have a good platform.