Family History, Writing

Using ChatGPT to Write Stories

image of a teal colored digital hand coming out of a laptop screen and shaking a human's hand. the text "Chatbot" is on the image.
Tools are emerging to allow humans to leverage artificial intelligence to write stories. (This image was generated with Canva, also an AI tool.)

Over the last year, I have been volunteering with Stories Behind the Stars (SBTS) to write stories of those from the U.S. who lost their lives in World War II serving in the military. So far, I have completed 43 stories – all but one about men who were from the area around my hometown. With over 22,000 fallen members just from Illinois that leaves a lot of stories left to write. Fortunately there are many others working on this effort, and for fallen members from some states like Utah or who fought in specific battles, all stories have been completed. But in Illinois at the present rate of completion (about 250 known stories written by all Illinois volunteers to date), it will take many more volunteers and time to finish all 22,000+ stories. As for me, there are at least a few hundred more stories I would like to write to honor and not forget all those from my hometown area. With my rate of completion that will take a few more years. So when I saw people talking about ChatGPT, I thought of trying it out to see if that tool could help me with the writing process. I was hoping for both an increase in speed and in quality since sometimes I struggle to find the best way to present the information I find.

My conclusion of the tool for me, as it is today, is it can be useful if given enough information particularly for writing something specific at a paragraph level. But for an entire story, it doesn’t yet provide the depth a human can create. To be fair though this assessment is based on input I gave the tool. Also, based on the site’s information, I get the impression the tool may not be set up to create stories at the level I am looking for. And it may not access information on the Internet as I thought it might to add details to the story.

There may also be other approaches I can take with my input to get a better story. And I believe if the tool follows development paths of other technologies, it could one day be able to create a well-rounded, accurate story with depth. So I’ll keep trying it out as it improves, and I’ll keep experimenting with my input, particularly to generate writing on a paragraph level. If you are interested in the outcomes of my experiments with using it, I posted the information below and may follow up with more examples of experiments. And to comply with the terms of use of the OpenAI API terms, below is the suggested disclaimer which I have reviewed and determined to be an accurate statement with the minor modifications I made:

“Where indicated below, the author generated text in part with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed the language and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.”

Setting up an account on ChatGPT

In order to use ChatGPT I had to first find the link to the tool on the website. When I clicked it, I was taken to a page which prompted me to sign up for an account. Once I had an account, I could sign in and begin using the tool.


ChatGPT Example: Writing a story about John Tomazin Jr.

My input:

Can you write a story about John Tomazin Jr. who was born 6 July 1916. His parents were John Tomazin and Frances Savric. They married on 19 October 1915 in Ottawa, Illinois. Both of his parents were from southeastern Slovenia. His mother arrived in New York on the SS Alice with her mother Maria Savric and sister Maria on 27 August 1913. John Tomazin Sr. worked at the zinc works and bought a home at 227 Chartres street. John Tomazin Sr. was naturalized on 17 June 1927.

ChatGPT Output based on my input:

John Tomazin Jr. was born on a warm summer day in July 1916. His parents, John Tomazin and Frances Savric, had married the year before in Ottawa, Illinois, where they had settled after immigrating to the United States from southeastern Slovenia.

John Sr. worked at the local zinc works and was able to save enough money to buy a small home on Chartres Street for his young family. Meanwhile, John Jr.’s mother, Frances, stayed at home to care for him and their growing family.

As John Jr. grew older, he watched his father work hard to provide for their family and was inspired by his dedication and determination. He knew that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and work hard to make a better life for himself and his loved ones.

John Sr. was naturalized as a US citizen in 1927, and he instilled in his son the importance of hard work and determination. John Jr. took these lessons to heart and worked hard in school, always striving to do his best and make his parents proud.

As he grew older and entered the workforce, John Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued a career in the zinc industry. He worked hard and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a respected and successful member of the community.

Despite the challenges he faced along the way, John Jr. remained determined and driven, always pushing himself to be the best that he could be. And in the end, his hard work and dedication paid off, as he achieved success and built a happy, fulfilling life for himself and his loved ones.

My assessment of the generated story:

I checked the weather records for the area for that day to see if the tool was accurate by saying it was a warm summer day. NOAA’s weather records for a nearby city show a high of 90 and low of 59 with no precipitation on the day of John’s birth. So the text seems valid, and I think adding the weather is a good way to add more depth to the story.

Regarding the size of the home on Chartres, I was curious since the tool said it was a small home if it somehow was able to access tax records. But in this case, it could not have so this has to be an assumption on the part of ChatGPT. I looked up 227 Chartres on the county tax site and found the address is not listed. However, the house is shown on Sanborn maps from an earlier time period. So it seems the home John Tomazin’s family lived in was torn down and the vacant land is now attached to 219 Chartres. Based on that Sanborn map the home does look smaller than other homes in the area although I probably would not add the word to my story. In this case, there were no tax records available online to determine the size, and I do not think ChatGPT was able to access and view a Sanborn map image to make this assessment. Therefore, I believe the tool just assumed the size of the home.

There are other embellishments in the story. While I am sure the family was hard working, respected, and successful, I did not add those words to my input. So I believe these were also added as embellishments by ChatGPT.

My input to update the John Tomazin Jr. story to add in his military service:

John Tomazin Jr. enlisted in the US Army on 27 March 1942 in Chicago. He was assigned to Company A of the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion in the 6th Armored Division. PFC John Tomazin Jr. was killed on 24 August 1944. He was buried in a temporary grave and after the war exhumed and sent to the United States. He was buried in a permanent grave on 15 July 1948 in Section D, Grave 149 in Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock island, Illinois.

ChatGPT Output based on my input:

John Tomazin Jr.’s life was forever changed when he enlisted in the US Army on 27 March 1942. He was assigned to Company A of the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion in the 6th Armored Division and shipped off to fight in World War II.

Despite the dangers of war, John Jr. remained determined and dedicated to serving his country. He worked hard and trained relentlessly, becoming a skilled and respected member of his unit.

Tragically, John Jr.’s life was cut short when he was killed in action on 24 August 1944. He was buried in a temporary grave overseas, and his family back home in Illinois waited anxiously for news of his fate.

After the war ended, John Jr.’s body was exhumed and returned to the United States. On 15 July 1948, he was finally laid to rest in a permanent grave at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois.

John Jr.’s family and friends mourned his loss, but they also took solace in knowing that he had died a hero, serving his country with bravery and honor. John Jr. will always be remembered as a brave and dedicated soldier who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.


My assessment of the generated update:

This output seemed acceptable to me. The added information does seem to make the story more interesting to read. And while I cannot be sure it is an accurate assessment of the facts, I believe it includes more depth in a manner someone writing it may also add. I would have liked to see the tool figure out the battle details based on the unit and date of death, but as you can see it did not. So if I’m looking for that, I will need to include that information in my input.

Comparison to the story I wrote about John Tomazin Jr. Note, the story at the link below does not have any AI-generated content:

PFC John Tomazin Jr., Service No. 36297456

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