A fantasy viking woman sitting outside in the midnight sun

Yes, the portraits are.

The characters themselves are not, and to the best of my knowledge they can’t be done well using today’s AI tools. I have experimented a little with text-based AI, and while the first character reads astonishingly well, the moment you read the third or fourth character you realize it’s all just more of the same. Text bots are just parrots, they don’t invent anything by themselves (yet). So unless you want all of your fantasy vikings to be vaguely the same you should stay away from text AI. Using something like ChatGPT results in characters not at all different from Landnámabók (the Book of Settlement): Hrólfr fled Norway because he didn’t get along with King Haraldr, and Geirmundr came from the Hebrides, spiced up by a few fantasy tropes, treasure hunting, a call from the wild, insert any adventure plot here.

To illustrate just how devoid of originality an AI generated plot idea is, have a look at the following passage where I prompted the AI with a request for a mystery plot for Sólrún, a young fisherwoman who wants to work on foreign merchant ships:

Sólrún is a young viking woman living with her father in medieval Iceland. Her mother had died when she was young, so it was just her and her father growing up. Her father was a fisher by trade, and Sólrún had learned to sail from a young age. She loved the sea and, like all good vikings, wanted to travel and explore new lands.

Sólrún was determined to make her own fortune and not depend on her father or anyone else. She had heard of foreign merchant ships coming to Iceland to trade, and she saw this as an opportunity to fulfill her dream. She asked her father if she could go abroad and take a job on a foreign merchant ship. Her father was hesitant at first, worried about the dangers of the sea and the uncertainty of foreign lands. However, he saw how determined Sólrún was and reluctantly gave his permission.

Sólrún boarded a foreign merchant ship as a seaman, and the adventure of a lifetime begins. At first, she struggled to fit in with the male crew, but she refused to give up. She worked hard, learned quickly, and proved her worth as a shipmate. Her ship traveled to many lands, and Sólrún saw many new and exciting things. She loved the excitement of travel, the challenges of the sea, and the companionship of her crewmates.

However, things took a dark turn when one of the crew was found dead. The crew suspected foul play, and Sólrún was determined to uncover the truth. She began investigating the death herself, using her intelligence and intuition to gather clues. As she delved deeper, she realized that there was more at play than just one crewman’s death.

Sólrún’s investigation led her to a conspiracy to overthrow the local authorities in one of the ports they visited. She saw this as a threat to her crew and the other innocent people that could be caught up in the chaos. Sólrún used her sailing skills and knowledge of the port’s layout to stop the conspirators and bring them to justice.

Sólrún returned home a hero, having saved her crew and many others from harm. She also returned with newfound independence and a sense of self-worth. Her father was amazed at her bravery and realized that he had raised a strong and capable woman. From that day forward, Sólrún continued to sail, explore, and seek new adventures, proving that she was not defined by societal norms or her gender.

Source: 👉 ToolsADay, output not edited at all

Yes, there is a story arc, the grammar is fine, there is even a possibility of an action scene, and it kind of works as a story, but it’s utterly boring. It’s just a copy of any other „overcoming obstacles to return as a hero“ story and I hate the hero’s journey formula with a passion.

And then there are certain fields of expertise where AI just doesn’t have a clue. Try to let AI generate an Old Norse name. I started with a request for six female names, and I got five, all beginning with H:

Search result from the Bing engine, accessed on May 2, 2023
Search result from the Bing engine, accessed on May 2, 2023

And while they are all latinized and would have to be re-written (Hallgerðr, Herbjǫrg), at least they are fine Old Norse names. Well, not so much if you ask for male names:

Search result from the Bing engine, accessed on May 2, 2023
Search result from the Bing engine, accessed on May 2, 2023

This is actually just pop culture bullshit, pardon my Klatchian. Thor? Loki??? A list of the most popular Viking boy names in Viking times should read Björn, Helgi, Hrólfr, Ketill, Þórarinn, Þorbjörn, Þórðr, Þorgeir, Þorgrímr, Þórir, Þorkell, Þorsteinn. I wrote an article on how to appropriately name your (fantasy) Viking character so you can avoid the most common pitfalls (like querying baby name sites.)

Come to think of it, there is one more aspect to character-making apart from originality or historically accurate naming, and that’s motivation. What I like about making my characters isn’t inventing what they do, but why they do it. Why does Grímólfr have a problem with visitors to his farm? Why has Þórhalla lost her faith? Why can’t Hólmkell stand his wife anymore? Why did Sólrún learn to sail as a child? Why doesn’t Yolant want to marry? Why is Sólmundr not married? Why does Gunnbjörn‘s family think he is lazy?