Will The Next Great American Novel Be Generated By Code?

National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) calls for code that can generate 50,000 words automatically.

Will The Next Great American Novel Be Generated By Code?
[Photo: Flickr user mpclemens]

November is National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). You’re probably thinking: Write a book in a month? Are you kidding? Such an endeavor would require an attention span of the sort we possessed before Twitter, not to mention the ability to… what was I talking about again?


There is a more efficient way to write a novel. And if Vim or Emacs is your word processor of choice, then you’re in luck. November also happens to be National Novel Generation Month (aka NaNoGenMo). It’s a call for developers to build apps capable of automatically generating at least 50,000 words.

Started via GitHub last year by Boston-based developer and self-proclaimed “Internet artist” Darius Kazemi, the projects don’t necessarily need to be hosted on GitHub, but that’s where Kazemi is encouraging participants to share their initial ideas and progress.

“I decided on a whim last year that it would be fun to do their event but by writing code that writes novels,” says Kazemi.

The rules of the competition are pretty loose: Coders need only submit a sample book and their source code when finished. The book doesn’t even have to make sense. It can be a massive vat of “Lorem ipsum” soup or an attempt to get a machine to churn out something coherent.

Last year, a developer named Leonard Richardson created a script called In Dialogue that automatically takes the dialogue in one book and swaps it out with that of another. “I love it because it’s a very simple task, computationally, but does a wonderful job of generating a surprising and funny novel that reads like a new text,” says Kazemi.

So how do you win NanNoGenMo? You don’t, really.


“There are no prizes in NaNoWriMo; similarly there are no prizes in NaNoGenMo,” says Kazemi. “The way you win is to write code that writes 50,000 words. That’s it. Really, it’s up to individual participants to decide whether they’ve won.”

The deadline for entry is Dec 1. Come back after that for an update on the best entries.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.