Here’s an update on my continuing efforts to explore using ChatGPT and other AI tools to create stories for the Stories Behind the Stars project. After my last attempt, I was thinking that perhaps this could work if someone could program it to write the type of story I am looking for. But then I saw a Tweet by @thatroblennon which made me realize AI tools like ChatGPT can be programmed just by talking to them. This was somewhat of a revelation to me. So I decided to try my experiment again by first “programming” what I wanted. After several trials I greatly simplified my initial attempts by just telling the tool what it was to do, giving it the details to use in the story, offering it an example of what I wanted the story to look like, then telling it to GO.
Here’s the result of my trial. I didn’t post the whole text of the example to avoid too much text here – if you want to see it, I instead posted the link to what the actual text of my example looked like.
MY INPUT INTO ChatGPT:
You are SBTSAIWriter, an AI skilled in writing stories of fallen members who are people who lost their lives in World War II while serving in the United States Military.
Here are your instructions to follow in writing the stories:
Your task is to write a story about a fallen member whose name appears between the word NAME and NAME_STOP using the information between the word DETAILS. and the word DETAILS_STOP.
Your story will be written in a style similar to the text between the word EXAMPLE and the word EXAMPLE_STOP.
You will not change the meaning of the facts or the facts in the details provided.
The final story should be easy to read. It should not have significant errors or large, tedious blocks of text. It should be written in a way that is interesting to the reader
You will start your story after I type the word GO.
Frank Zabkar was born June 8, 1911, in LaSalle, Illinois, to Michael and Sophia Zabkar.
Frank’s father Michael was born about 1875 and was from the Zupeca Vas area in Austria. He traveled to American in 1898.
Frank’s mother was from the Gradise area of Austria.
Michael Zabkar married Sophia Cujnik in LaSalle, Illinois, on January 1, 1900.
Frank’s parents had six other children. Three passed away at a young age. Frank’s three surviving sisters were: Sophie born 1901, Antoinette born 1905, and Christine born 1910.
Frank’s mother Sophia died on June 10, 1918, at age 43 after contracting typhoid fever.
In 1920 Frank’s father Michael was working as a soft drink dispenser.
In 1920 Frank lived with his father and siblings in a rented home at 1219 First street in LaSalle. Later that year his sister Sophia married Stanley Koskosky on October 11, 1920.
On 18 August 1921, Frank’s father Michael Zabkar married again to Francisca Filipic.
On 22 December 1925, Frank’s father Michael came down with pneumonia and passed away.
Frank’s sister Antoinette married Adolph Smudzinski on October 15, 1926.
In 1930 Frank was living with his sister and her husband Stanley Koskosky and children Adele and Richard at 917 First street in LaSalle. Frank was working as a laborer on a farm. Their sister Antoinette and her husband Adolph Smudzinski and their daughter Alberta were also living in the home.
In 1940 Frank Zabkar was working as a porter in a tavern for his brother-in-law Stanley Koskosky at 917 First Street in LaSalle. In 1940, Frank was living at 237 LaHarpe street with his wife Adeline.
Frank Zabkar registered for the draft on October 16, 1940. At the time he was 29 and had gray eyes and black hair.
Frank’s sister Christine married Torney Hill in June 1942 in Chicago.
Frank Zabkar enlisted in the U.S. Army November 26, 1943. At some point, Frank was assigned to the 86th Replacement Battalion. On 19 July 1944, he was transferred from the replacement battalion to Company B of the 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division. The replacement divisions were established to supply units in the Army with soldiers. But often replacement soldiers did not receive extensive training and were often unprepared for the battles faced in the European Theater.
On Private Frank Zabkar’s sixth day in the regiment, he witnessed 3,000 American planes fly over their position on the way to bomb German forces.
On his eighth day with the 137th, his battalion was attached to the 134th Infantry and attacked the enemy near La Luzerne and St. Lo. “For the first time since the regiment entered combat,” no casualties of any kind were reported. The next day Private Frank Zabkar’s battalion continued to advance.
On July 29th, Private Frank Zabkar’s company returned to the 137th Infantry, and they moved “from north of La Bedellerie, down Highway 2, southeast of St. Lo, to the vicinity of La Barbee.”
The next day, the regiment became part of Task Force S and assigned “the mission of seizing two objectives, the first being the high ground southeast of Brectouville, and” and the ”high ground north of the Vire River, southeast of Tessy sur Vire.” In pursuit of this objective the regiment “moved to the area near le Reneoudiere and prepared to attack the following morning.”
On July 31st, Private Frank Zabkar faced heavy artillery and mortar fire. That day the regiment lost two soldiers; nineteen were wounded. The next day August 1st, Private Frank Zabkar’s company made it to Brectouville. But as they continued on and reached the “stream north and west of Pitaunay,” they were “held up by enemy machine gun and mortar fire.” Even so they managed to advance 1000 yards more before again facing machine gun, mortar fire, and direct 88 fire. Private Frank Zabkar’s company was cut off for some time along with company C. At some point during this advance, Private Frank Zabkar was hit in the back by a bullet and killed.
Frank’s body was returned to his family in 1948.
Frank Zabkar was buried in St. Vincent Cemetery in LaSalle, Illinois.
[Here’s a link to the text I put here. I didn’t want to paste it all in this post to avoid making it too long.]
Here is the story generated by ChatGPT:
Frank Zabkar was a man of humble beginnings, born in LaSalle, Illinois in 1911 to Austrian immigrants Michael and Sophia Zabkar. Growing up, Frank was one of seven children, and unfortunately, three of his siblings passed away at a young age. Frank’s mother Sophia passed away in 1918 from typhoid fever, leaving his father to raise him and his three remaining sisters, Sophie, Antoinette, and Christine.
Frank’s father worked as a soft drink dispenser and the family lived in a rented home at 1219 First street in LaSalle. In 1920, Frank’s sister Sophia married Stanley Koskosky and his father remarried in 1921 to Francisca Filipic. Tragically, Frank’s father passed away from pneumonia in 1925, leaving Frank to help support his family.
In 1930, Frank was living with his sister and her family, working as a laborer on a farm. By 1940, Frank was working as a porter in a tavern for his brother-in-law Stanley Koskosky and living at 237 LaHarpe street with his wife Adeline.
Frank registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and enlisted in the U.S. Army on November 26, 1943. He was assigned to the 86th Replacement Battalion and later transferred to Company B of the 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division.
Private Frank Zabkar was deployed to the European Theater, where he faced heavy artillery and mortar fire. On July 31st, his regiment lost two soldiers and nineteen were wounded. The next day, August 1st, Private Frank Zabkar’s company was advancing towards Brectouville when they were met with heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire. Despite the challenges, Frank’s company pushed forward and managed to advance 1000 yards before being cut off by enemy fire. It was during this advance that Private Frank Zabkar was tragically hit in the back by a bullet and killed.
Frank’s body was returned to his family in the United States and he was given a hero’s farewell. Frank Zabkar may have been just one man, but his sacrifice and dedication to his country will always be remembered.
My assessment of the output:
I thought the AI tool did a decent job of this. The story is acceptable although somewhat short. So I think the idea of “programming” by telling it what you want it to do did seem to work. However, I noticed a lot of details were left out. So I asked it, “why did you leave out some details when you wrote the story?”
Here is the response to my question:
“I left out some details in order to write a story that is easy to read and interesting to the reader. I focused on the key events and information that would help to create a narrative and convey the story of Frank Zabkar’s life and his service in World War II. Additionally, I tried to avoid including information that was not directly relevant to the story or that would have made the story too long and tedious to read.”
In the end, I wanted to add in more details. Although the response above made me question if doing so was a good idea. Maybe ChatGPT is right and anymore people don’t want to read stories that are too long? The ChatGPT-generated story was 340 words while my final one was 590. If interested, you can check out my final story here.