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This is my entry for NaNoGenMo 2018. You can read the generated novel here: Angela's Claustrum

How It Works

The general idea was to write some language modelling software, in C and Ruby, to generate a new novel using Insoluble, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015, as a template.


I started out by downloading the Gutenberg Dataset and writing some code to iterate over all texts in the corpus, yielding a list of chapters, each comprised of multiple paragraphs, with paragraphs consisting of a sequence of sentences, each tagged as being exposition or dialogue. Various heuristics were used to decide whether a line was part of a story or not (as a lot of the Gutenberg texts contain headers and footers outside the scope of the story), and to decide what comprises a sentence. I just iterated on it all until I was happy with the results.

Keyword Association

The next step was to create a template for the novel I wanted to generate. I did this by taking Insoluble and running it through the segmentation filter, then cleaning up the results by hand. I then wrote a program to generate a list of keywords for each sentence in the template.

I sank many days of experimentation into this task, going back-and-forth, trying different techniques. It's important to me that the results look good without any manual fine-tuning, so I wanted to select the best algorithm based on my personal evaluation of the results (which is a form of fine-tuning, of course, but of a different kind). The final algorithm works like this:

  • Scan Insoluble to build a dictionary of normalised words (i.e. uppercase with most punctuation removed) that appear in the template.
  • Iterate through all of the Gutenberg Dataset, training a language model that captures the likelihood of a normalised word appearing in a sentence given that some other normalised word also appears in that sentence. Separate models are trained for exposition versus dialogue.
  • For each sentence in the template, measure the total NPMI between each normalised word in the sentence and all the words in the Gutenberg Dataset.
  • Take the three normalised words with the highest total NPMI and repeat the process, this time constraining the results to normalised words that are known to appear in the template.
  • Select the best five keywords from the results, and write them to the output, together with the number of normalised words in the original sentence.

So, for example, this sentence in the template:

exposition:My wife burst out of bed and entered the bathroom, barely looking my way in the rush.

Would be turned into the following three keywords, based on associations inferred from the Gutenberg Dataset:


And these would be used to generate the final keywords, using the same associations:


This is kinda-sorta like "translating" the sentence from Insoluble to Gutenberg and back again, using only statistics inferred from Gutenberg, yielding some keywords that we can then use to constrain sentence generation, along with a target word count that can be used to choose between multiple generations (the 15 in the example above).

Initially I only performed the process once, always ending up with lists of keywords that included a character names and hapax legomena from Gutenberg, iterating madly to change the algorithm to make these unlikely, eventually building a blacklist of words to prevent them from being used, as their presence invariably made the resulting generated text a lot more disjointed and random than I would have liked. Eventually I tried performing the process twice, and the results were immediately much better.

You can view the full list of keywords <- there.

Sentence Generation

The next step was to take five keywords, and a target sentence count, and generate a sentence that contains as many of the keywords as possible while being as close to the target word count as possible.

I achieved this by coding what I call a "Fractal Language Model". For all word pairs A-B in a particular sentence, regardless of how far they're separated, it infers statistics over which word may appear immediately before B (with a special unprintable word being used in the case where A and B are adjacent.

This model is then easily used to generate candidate sentences, which was done as follows:

  • For each possible permutation of five keywords (there are 120 of them), generate 100 sentences. Of course, some permutations may yield zero generations, as particular keyword pairs may never have been observed in Gutenberg.
  • Do the same for all permutations of 4, 3, 2 and 1 keywords as well.
  • Score each generation, using a heuristic that prefers more keywords, provided that the number of words in the sentence isn't too different from the target number of words.
  • Select the generation with the highest score.

For instance, for these keywords:


The resulting generation is:


This generation contains all five keywords, and is exactly the same word length as the original sentence from the template (hence the 5;0 in the results).

You can view the full list of generated sentences <- there.


The final step is to repair the generations to de-normalise the words and insert punctuation back where it should be. This is done by inferring a couple of new language models from Gutenberg:

  • The first model infers which punctuation symbols should occur between adjacent pairs of normalised words.
  • The second model infers which de-normalised form of a word should be used, given the previous word and the punctuation that occurs after it.
  • These models are used to generate up to 100 repaired sentences, with a heuristic being used to score the generation (doing nothing more than trying to make sure quotation marks are balanced).

For example, this generation:


is repaired to:

Their laughter of wood of the silent laughter, but the rush burst away northwards, following.

Final Generation

Repaired sentences are joined back into paragraphs, and a template is used to add the title, author and chapter labels. And that's the entire process that was used to generate Angela's Claustrum!

Future Work

The language model I use for generating sentences could be better; the results contain too many discontinuities for my liking (worse than a 2nd-order Markov Model). I coded up a better language model and performed some tests, then tried running it on the entirety of Gutenberg. After a couple of days, it had barely chewed through the first 5% of sentences, and my laptop had ground to a halt at 100% memory and 100% CPU.

So I fired up a high-memory AWS instance and tried again. The progress after a couple of days was not much better. I upgraded to a compute-optimised instance, and made my code multi-threaded, but it's clear that generation won't be finished before the deadline.

Once generation is done, I'll add a second version of the generated novel to this repo to allow results to be compared.

Copyright (c) 2018 Jason Hutchens. See UNLICENSE for further details.


πŸŒ€"Angela's Claustrum", a novel by Salvatore.




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