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Words and Pictures (and A.I.)

Updated: Mar 18

Yes, of course I've been following all the hugger-mugger (sturm und drang? argy bargy?) about A.I. and how it will replace us writers and leave us with nothing to do but stare blankly into space as we huddle miserably in the hovels where we'll be forced to live, or roam the streets begging for kindness from strangers ("Help you solve Wordle for 10 bucks, pal!"). Well, suppose I could always go back to stacking hay bales like I did during summers in high school.

But that's not what I'm going to get into here. Having read about the advances in A.I. image generators, I decided to try one out. I thought it would be fun to see what some of the characters in my novel Transformation Summer might look like. So I went to Microsoft Bing Image Creator (not an endorsement) and gave it a whirl. PLEASE NOTE: You don't have to have read the book – though I sure as heck wish you would – to be able to follow along here.

My choices were somewhat limited, because I gave only several of the characters in the book any kind of a detailed physical description. But I typed the specs for each into the image generator and added a few other filters and descriptors I thought would be useful. And you know what? The results were pretty good from my point of view.




Rafe, the dude with the guitar at the top of the page, is pretty much as I envisioned him – kind of dusky, with a raffish, cocky attitude. Diana looks beautiful and self-assured, a perfect foil for Rafe, which she often is. Morgana is a bit more waifish than I might have liked, but her A.I. image captures the child-like wonder with which she – no longer a child – views the world and people around her. I can picture Marcus spinning his little webs while he projects himself as the vigorous but benevolent authority figure.



Fearless little Lily looks suitably pugnacious, I reckon, but Grace – well, this points up a general problem I had with this experiment: Every one of the characters seems so perfectly stylized and airbrushed, imbued with such an artistic dollop of shadow and light. Perhaps that's a limitation of the medium, but then again, maybe it's me. Could I have offered more specific instructions and specifications? All I know is, I pictured Grace as somewhat more plain, though certainly quite comely – just not a teen model.

Now, here's where it gets tricky, in a fun, meta sort of way.

Sure, I am the one who made up these characters. But it is Seth, the book's narrator, who is describing them for us – what they look like, what they sound like, and how they interact with him as well as each other. Or rather, how he remembers them. Perhaps these A.I. images reflect the emotional content of Seth's memories, much the same way we might remember, and idealize, a beloved place in our past, when in fact the reality is significantly different: That park where you and your friends used to play after school was really very small, and had far more bare ground than lush, grassy fields.

I also realize that those of you who have in fact read Transformation Summer most likely formed your own mental images of Grace and Diana and Rafe and all the other characters. So I'm curious to know: How close to the mark, if at all, do you find these A.I. creations? If you've a mind to, drop me a line and tell me – hey, the way this A.I. stuff is unfolding, I may have a lot of time to catch up on my correspondence.

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