SJ’s World

You’re just living in it

Prompt

For this project, I wanted to feed ChatGPT a prompt based on a situation I’d experienced. That said, it was really important to me that I only give ChatGPT a scenario, and that the program be entirely on its own for coming up with the outcome- allowing it the room to rewrite history, if you will.
The real story is this: After I graduated from UGA, I moved to London to pursue my MA at University College London. I thought I was embarking on the adventure of my dreams. At the same time, my best friend moved to New York, where she had a fancy job with a big important company. She was so excited, and I was so excited for her. But things fell apart for both of us pretty quickly. We were both so lost in our loneliness, in our struggle, that we couldn’t see beyond ourselves to the pain the other was feeling. I won’t carry on too much but, essentially, this period was the start of the end for our friendship. 

Anyways, after fiddling around quite a bit with the prompt I fed ChatGPT, it finally gave me quite a beautiful little story about two friends, Sarah and Emily. (Just as a side note, I think it’s quite the funny coincidence that it used my first name for one of the characters. I did not instruct it to do so.) I hope you enjoy!

Echoes Across the Distance

The first light of dawn broke through the window, casting a delicate glow on the empty room. Sarah stood in the center, surrounded by unpacked boxes and the residue of uncertainty that clung to the air. This was her new apartment in London, a city of unfamiliar faces and endless possibilities. Yet, as the days turned into weeks, she couldn’t shake off the persistent feeling of loneliness and insignificance that settled in her heart.

Across the Atlantic, in the bustling streets of New York City, Emily found herself in a similar predicament. The skyscrapers towered above her, each one a symbol of ambition and success. But amidst the sea of strangers, she felt like a mere drop in the ocean, her voice drowned out by the cacophony of urban life. The vibrant energy that she had once imagined would be her source of inspiration now served only to highlight her own sense of alienation.

Sarah and Emily had been inseparable since childhood, their friendship forged through countless shared secrets and whispered dreams. They had dreamed of conquering the world together, supporting each other’s ambitions, and celebrating their successes side by side. But now, separated by an ocean, their once unbreakable bond seemed fragile and frayed.

Weeks turned into months, and the silence between them grew louder with each passing day. Sarah would sit by her window, watching the raindrops trace patterns on the glass, as tears mirrored the melancholy that enveloped her. She scrolled through photos of Emily on social media, her friend’s smiling face a constant reminder of the distance between them. The captions beneath each picture painted a picture of a life brimming with new experiences and opportunities. Sarah wondered if she was the only one who felt adrift in a sea of strangers.

In her tiny New York apartment, Emily stared at her phone, contemplating whether to dial Sarah’s number. The desire to hear her friend’s voice was overwhelming, yet the fear of burdening her with her own sense of insignificance held her back. Emily scrolled through her contacts, her thumb hovering over Sarah’s name, before finally closing the app with a sigh. Vulnerability had always been difficult for her, and the thought of exposing her loneliness felt like a betrayal of their friendship.

Months turned into a year, and the once vibrant connection between Sarah and Emily grew tenuous. Their messages became sporadic, their phone calls few and far between. Each friend feared that revealing their own struggles would diminish the other’s accomplishments, that admitting their loneliness would tarnish the image of a successful and independent young woman they had cultivated for themselves.

But beneath the surface, the foundations of their friendship were crumbling. Sarah’s voice grew distant and hollow, and Emily’s laughter lost its luster. They were losing each other, caught in a web of their own insecurities, unable to bridge the gap that had formed between them.

Then, one fateful evening, Sarah mustered the courage to break the silence. She sat in front of her laptop, her fingers trembling as she typed out a heartfelt message to Emily. She confessed her feelings of loneliness, her fear of being insignificant in this vast city. And as she hit the send button, a mix of relief and trepidation washed over her, unsure of what would come next.

In her New York apartment, Emily stared at the message that had appeared on her screen. She read and reread Sarah’s words, feeling a surge of recognition and relief. Tears welled up in her eyes as she typed her own confession, unraveling the depths of her loneliness and the ache of missing her best friend.

For the first time in a long while, Sarah and Emily opened up to each other, sharing their innermost fears and vulnerabilities. They realized that they had been mirrors to each other, reflecting the very emotions they both felt but were too afraid to acknowledge. In their honesty, they found solace and strength.

From that day forward, Sarah and Emily vowed to nurture their friendship, regardless of the physical distance that separated them. They understood that true connection transcends geographical boundaries and that the depths of their friendship could withstand the test of time. Through their exploration of young adulthood, independence, and the complexities of female friendship, they discovered that loneliness could be conquered when shared, and that vulnerability was the key that unlocked the depths of their bond.

Though their paths diverged, and the challenges of life continued to shape them, Sarah and Emily clung to the knowledge that they were never truly alone. And even if their story didn’t have a conventional happy ending, they found solace in the fact that their friendship, tempered by the fire of distance, had been forged anew, stronger than ever before.

Analysis

Overall, I think ChatGPT managed to tell a pretty good story with “Echoes Across the Distance” (which it titled, by the way). That said, I think the story would require some somewhat major editing to have a chance at becoming a really good story. Let’s take a look at some of what ChatGPT did quite well, as well as where the program struggled to meet my expectations. 

First off, ChatGPT did manage to surprise me by mentioning social media. When Sarah scrolls through Emily’s page, “her friend’s smiling face a constant reminder of the distance between them,” ChatGPT is essentially picking up on real-world, modern struggles which were beyond the scope of the prompt (the prompt only mentions that each character feels lonely and isolated in their new city). I thought the mention of social media, though brief, added a lot of depth to the theme of loneliness in the story. Not to mention, it’s a relatable experience that helps to draw the reader in.

The next surprise was not quite as pleasant. I was expecting that ChatGPT would have relatively no issues building a linear narrative. Instead, I found that ChatGPT bounces back and forth quite a bit in building that tension between Sarah and Emily. It first mentions the “silence” between the two characters, only to later say that calls became less and less frequent, all while the relationship was becoming more strained. For me, the back-and-forth took me out of the story a bit. 

I expected ChatGPT to struggle with articulating emotions in a way that felt human. And, true, it did take a bit of fiddling with the prompt to get the output I wanted. But eventually, the program did put out some really beautiful language (“The vibrant energy that she had once imagined would be her source of inspiration now served only to highlight her own sense of alienation.”) that feels really true to my own experiences post-college. That said, I found that every emotion was sort of an all-or-nothing, and all-at-once thing. Despite my prompting, ChatGPT didn’t do a great job of building up emotions in the characters. That holds the story back quite a bit, as the central conflict (those isolating feelings of loneliness that each character is experiencing) is stagnant, rather than building up and up towards the climax of the story.

It’s also worth mentioning that this story has almost no exposition, making it nearly impossible for the audience to really buy into the characters before they have conflict. The lack of exploration of character, combined with how ChatGPT sort of fails to build that feeling of loneliness, means that readers probably won’t feel invested in the outcome of the story, which in turn limits the tension felt during the climax.

And, finally, the resolution of the story (the last two paragraphs, specifically) were so on the nose that it gave the entire story a false, story-book quality, as if it were meant to be read to little kids. 

All that said, I can’t deny that ChatGPT gave me a better story than I was expecting to receive. Most of the changes I would make are, at the end of the day, matters of personal opinion. I think the story would be better if it followed just one of the characters, for instance- but that’s a matter of the author’s choice and style. Moreover, ChatGPT managed to go above and beyond the scope of the prompt in such a way that it actually contributed quite a bit of depth to the themes of the story, going so far as to examine the relationship between social media and isolation, which I wouldn’t have thought to do. Overall, not bad for a little robot brain.

Click here to view the story with my annotations: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YL2zT1zQ2YcswJmN8EeriVhTDGAK4jtHiGIodLnkl5s/edit?usp=sharing