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All of these questions are of the form:

hey look at this thing well outside the realms of known science that I dreamed up, how can I justify it by known science?

and the only correct answer is:

you've already required your audience to suspend their disbelief with your handwavium, why do you need science to justify it?

Yet I consistently see questions along these lines being posted here, and even making it into HNQ at times. However it appears that a consensus has already been reached about such questions over two years ago:

Closure seems appropriate. At their core, they seem too broad - we don't really want completely open ended questions there and "what will replace X" is pretty much that.

Now, I will agree that the type of questions I'm talking about here aren't strictly the same as those on that linked Meta question, but they ultimately suffer the same problem: namely that there are a potentially infinite number of answers.

However I have another concern with this type of question: by answering them, we give aspiring writers the impression that justifying handwavium is something they need to be doing. But that's incorrect; the kind of details that these questions are asking for are wholly irrelevant to building the actual world of their story, which is ultimately done through the beings that are the lens through which their story is told within a world.

As such, I posit that by entertaining such questions here we are doing writers a massive disservice, and consequently that we should be doing a far more zealous job of closing them as "too broad" as soon as they're posted.

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    $\begingroup$ what's the point of talking about audience, suspence of disbelief and stuff like that? this is worldbuilding stack not writing stack $\endgroup$
    – user100394
    Jan 8, 2023 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Cataphract Suspension of belief is intrinsic to good world design : for instance, inconsistent physics and magic systems will throw you out of the experience. You also write worlds with a target in mind 🎯 : you don't invent a drug-addicted and violent society for children. All this is as much tied to worldbuilding as it is to writing stories. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2023 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena --- Curious. AiW is essentially just that: inconsistent physics upon inconsistent physics upon inconsistent magic. Yet it is a classic fantasy! It never bothered me or broke my suspension of disbelief (an extremely overrated concept, in my opinion) one iota. As far as target audience, consider Harry Potter. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 9, 2023 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Elemtilas Then the inconsistency is what is consistent 🦋; You're expecting things to surprise you. Consistency is not always the best intention; Watch the Indian movie Baahubali for another instance : They'd rather tell a (very, very, very...) epic story than having constant and logical character power. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2023 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally, I dunno that a comment from 2 years ago with 2 votes on it counts as a consensus. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Jan 10, 2023 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JamieB It's the closest I can find to a consensus *shrug* $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Jan 10, 2023 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena --- Which breaks suspension of belief. I think it's an overrated concept, but assuming it's a requirement for writing or worldbuilding, then any world that can't be believed in oughtn't be good worldbuilding or storybuilding. I guess my point is that humans are better at suspending belief than many writers give us credit for! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 11, 2023 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Elemtilas Agreeing that suspension-of-belief can be stretched quite a lot. It depends on the initial expectations ^^. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 18:38

5 Answers 5

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I think I get where you're coming from, because that's pretty much what I said in a comment on this one: Possible mechanism for telescoping barrels. I mean, if your world needs telescoping barrels, just give it telescoping barrels and never explain how they work.

But careful what you wish for.

If we tell people that in order to answer this kind of question, they must justify why their story needs it, then they'll be writing us 5000 word questions explaining their entire story concept and why they need this (and then people would VTC for "lack of focus"). I think I'd rather they just ask their question, be as focused as possible, and we just assume they need it for some reason we would actually prefer not to wade through.

(I thought the space fairies was actually a reasonable one. The author had some clearly wrong ideas about physics in space so we probably did a service there. On one hand, they don't need to explain the detailed biology of space fairies. On the other hand, tiny wings flapping in the void did need, at least, some handwavium, and the author didn't even know they needed that.)

edit -- another good example just popped up here: Can a creature have an endoskeleton of chitin and silica?

As Starfish Prime mentioned in his answer "you're presumably not writing a story about biochemistry, so I'd just gloss over the issue." This is good advice, but he also still answered the question. We don't really know what the asker is creating. Perhaps Mr. Spock has just beamed down to an alien planet and would like to deliver a comprehensive and believable science statement about local lifeforms. The author would like to at least know it's plausible. Seems fair enough, really. Closing the question because we personally think he doesn't need the answer is a bit...silly.

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Here is a list of the Meta questions I've asked on this subject:

And those are just mine. As you can see, I've been asking about this issue since 2017. In all that time, I've been led to realize a simple fact:

Nothing will stop people from asking this type of question.

In a perfect world nobody would post a question on this Stack before memorizing the Tour, memorizing at least the On-Topic and Don't-Ask Help Center pages, and watching the question-answer process for at least a year. The truth? Almost nobody reads the tour and nobody reads the Help Center until they've had their hands slapped a dozen times. And while a few folks spectate for a while, most swoop in and drop their question, then wonder why it gets down votes or closed.

It doesn't help that we're in the midst of an "as realistic as possible" fad

I've never seen an episode of The Expanse. I've watched a few YouTube clips, and the show's cool... but while it might not have single-handedly done us a disservice, it contributed to the current fad of all worldbuilding efforts being as "realistic as possible."

Bah-humbug!

My family and I ran a micro-publisher for about ten years. Some of the lessons we learned, based on reviewing nearly 100,000 (yup, one-hundred-thousand) manuscripts over that decade, were these:

  1. A good story will be forgiven almost any lack of detail. A bad story won't be saved by any amount of detail. @Sphennings is dead-on correct about this. In our case, the most common offenders were invective and over-the-top-detailed-violence. Trust me, a bad story won't be saved by any amount of swearing or gore, no matter how much you think your antagonist "can't be understood" without it. The goal, as any practiced author will tell you, is to have a good story with the right amount of detail so that your readers write to you begging for more. Hence my linked question above, "Why asking for the details isn't always a good idea."

  2. Every detail you include in your story that doesn't contribute to the plot or help improve the audience's experience of the journey is a distraction, often with "we hated the book" consequences. Don't believe me? Get an unmodified and unabridged copy of Moby Dick and try to read it. Chapter after chapter after chapter of mind-numbing detail about whaling ship operations and logistics that have little or nothing to do with the story. The only reason anyone reads it today is because they were forced to in their Middle School English class. Why did Melville include it? Because in his day, almost no one understood anything about sea-faring ships. That simply isn't true about space ships (or most of science) today. Hence my linked question above, "What is 'narrative necessity' and how does it apply to worldbuilding?"

  3. As you increase your attention to detail, you're decreasing your attention to your story, always with negative results. There's a balance between worldbuilding and storybuilding. Tolkien spent a lot less time "building his world" than you might think. Oh, he had a mountain of notes and ideas that were glued together into The Silmarillion, which is hard to read for non-Tolkien enthusiasts because it is, at best, a lengthy compilation of short stories and poetry. (I'd bet that you, dear reader, don't know three people who have read it cover-to-cover, even though most people who own two or more copies of The Lord of the Rings also have a copy of The Silmarillion. I do. I've never cracked the cover.) But he only built as much of his world as was necessary for his story. Worldbuilding is fun, but without a purpose, it's just a loose collection of ideas. And when you lose focus on the purpose for doing it, what you get has little value. Hence my linked question above, "How best to deal with 'what are you expecting?' questions."

To make a long story short, too much realism is just as bad as too little. Pick up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and ask yourself, just how much of that story reflected "Real Life?" Answer: A lot less than you think. Lee's story was based on her 10-year-old memories of her family, her town, and an event that took place in her town. It was also based on research. And finally it was crafted into a book that made a point. I know enough about the history of the time period to know the book was laughably simplistic. I also know enough about story telling to know it was a masterpiece in that it drew her audience into debate and discussion about social issues.

Had she tried to bring "realsim" into the story any more than she did, it would have ruined the book.

It's true that new authors seeking "realism" are misguided

The kind of details that these questions are asking for are wholly irrelevant to building the actual world of their story.

New authors haven't yet realized how to balance "realism" with "purpose." But to claim that such details are "wholly irrelevant" is claiming to read the OP's mind. If the scientific detail around the fantastic idea is a central plot device in the story, then it makes a lot of sense to come here and ask for help trying to define it. If it's not a central plot point, then you're absolutely correct that the effort is a waste of everyone's time.

But does that make the question type inherently wrong?

No, it doesn't. The only question that matters from the perspective of we, the potential respondents, is, does the question meet the rules of Stack Exchange and this Stack's expectations?

  • If yes, then it's perfectly reasonable to answer even if you, an individual respondent, doesn't like the question type.

  • If no, close the question and explain to the OP what needs to be done to meet the rules and expectations.

Conclusion

To quote from the Good Book (and not making a moral judgement about any OP), "the poor you will always have with you." Interpreted for this application:

  • Inexperienced authors will always be inspired by something and seek our help to rationalize their ideas.

That's not a bad thing... so long as we're willing to patiently help them understand how to proverbially drive at the posted speed limit.

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    $\begingroup$ Some other good links: explanation on the prohibition on idea generation. Discussion around removing the custom close reason for idea generation Note how it's removal is focused solely on how VTC and POB make the custom reason redundant, and not about a change in policy around the prohibition of brainstorming. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 19, 2023 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ "the current fad of all worldbuilding efforts being as "realistic as possible." note on this - there are many works which are built upon lack of realism and contradictions. Examples include the Discworld series and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. They embrace some of the nonsensical details as part of themselves. Discworld has a long-running joke about a fight where both sides managed to ambush one another due to some stitching of time left the history in shambles. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 19, 2023 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ At any rate, the question here is about a particular kind of "realism". It's where an element is introduced and explanation should be provided for it. It's trying to justify a fantastical element via real-world science which usually cannot work. If it did, wouldn't be a fantastical element. Sci-fi does often work towards "realistic" but by building up on the fantastical premises. Isaac Asimov has a series of works on robots that hinge on the three laws of robotics and what could happen were they real. Yet decades later IRL we don't have robotic laws or positronic brains, or robopsychologists $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 19, 2023 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ I hear you, and indeed that aspect of "here's my fantastic idea, how could it exist in Real Life?" is how I understood the question. But your example of Asimov is what people should be doing. He didn't try to explain how the robots worked. In fact, he invented technobabble that's now part of SciFi's normal nomenclature (e.g., "positronic brain"). He literally avoided trying to make his robots "as real as possible." Today, we'd have a user asking for a circuit diagram. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 19, 2023 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ Part of the issue here, since you bring up Asimov and Tolkien, is that people expect the worldbuilding. They expect maps, they expect diagrammes, they expect languages that can be learned, they expect various apparatus of an immersive nature. Worldbuilding becomes so important that you end up with communities of people whose sole experience of the story is the world it's set in. This gets back to your points about Melville and Tolkien (who actually did quite a lot of worldbuilding, maybe not as much as one might think, but certainly more than most), and that is: people want (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 20, 2023 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) immersion. One might think that whaling ship operations is unimportant to the story and can be safely left out, but consider that back in the day whaling was a vital industry and an extremely dangerous occupation. Readers wanted the experience of being on a whaling ship as much as (and perhaps more than) the story itself. People that just want the bare narrative buy the Cliff Notes. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 20, 2023 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas You're points are well taken! I don't believe anybody is suggesting that worldbuilding is all or nothing. But I do agree that today's readers have become spoiled to the point that they believe they should be given the assistance required to produce such immersive depth without first earning the chops necessary to do it. When I ask myself, what's the goal of this site? The goal is to help people with small aspects of a project of any size. It's not to build a world for someone who can't build it themselves. (*Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 22, 2023 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ ... Please note that my answer supports questions of this type - but that it suggests we need to help querents when what they're requesting is beyond the intent of this Stack. There are a great many of these questions that can be answered, "you won't get what you're looking for because anyone who can give you what you want will be running to the patent office rather than posting it here." The hard part is helping the querent understand that, because they understand so little about what they're asking about they actually don't realize why they won't get the answer they want. (*Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 22, 2023 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ ... A good example is one question posted within the last week by a young user who tagged his question hard-science but was asking about an entirely fictitious technology. When I expressed my disbelief over the tag (I could have been more diplomatic about it), the OP graciously deleted his/her Q, edited it (including removing the tag), then undeleted it. I'd give my eye teeth for more users like that. Most proverbially fold their arms and refuse to edit their Q. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 22, 2023 at 4:08
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and the only correct answer is:

you've already required your audience to suspend their disbelief with your handwavium, why do you need science to justify it?

I disagree that this is a correct answer. I would say it's a complete non-answer, which essentially boils down to "don't do worldbuilding." In my opinion this is a pretty random thing to say to someone who just posted a question on a site about worldbuilding.

There is definitely a place for the argument that sometimes a story can be made convincing by leaving out some of the worldbuilding details - I'm just pretty sure the worldbuilding stack exchange isn't that place.

And much as there is a place in the world for that argument, there is also surely a place for a counterargument: sometimes it's useful to build the world in much more detail than is ever revealed in the story. Not every author does this, and certainly not every author has to, but as a good example, check out Greg Egan's site, where he gives wonderfully detailed explanations of the physics of his worlds, complete with diagrams, graphs and equations, in far more detail than we ever see in the novels. Do we really want to tell people that that kind of work isn't worth doing, if they want to do it?

And most certainly, the "suspension of disbelief is better than worldbuilding" argument can't possibly make sense as a reason to close a question. If a question can be closed as off-topic because it's about worldbuilding, then what is this site for at all?

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  • $\begingroup$ What happens if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? This is a rather famous question that poses a logical contradiction. Some people would say that the unstoppable force would pass through the immovable object by the virtue of being "unstoppable". Others would say it would be stopped by virtue of the object being "immovable". Others still would say that both nullify each other. Yet the only possible answer is that this is a logical contradiction and there cannot exist an unstoppable force and an immovable object at the same time. The very premise of the question is wrong. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 12, 2023 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ The reason I went over the famous logical contradiction is because that is what the meta question is talking about: different versions of logical contradictions. It's about questions that pose something impossible to justify and then ask for reasoning how to make it possible using known science. Which is a logical contradiction. The very premise of the question is wrong. As with the unstoppable force/immovable object. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 12, 2023 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ I don't think the example questions are logical contradictions though. They might contradict facts of known science, but that's a different thing from a logical contradiction, since those facts might not be known to the OP. As a matter of fact, as a scientist myself, I would say several of the example questions don't contradict any known facts at all, and would be considered open research questions if someone in a relevant field were to take them seriously. I'm not saying the examples chosen are good questions. I just don't think they're bad for the reason you say they are. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 12, 2023 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ + N.Virgo You're both right : The affected questions include both pure logical contradictions and ones which don't have an answer, but are not necessarily strictly absurd. For the first, you've got an almost matching case with this one, and the second could be most examples in this post. Reaching true contradiction is quite hard if you have thought on the topic a bit, tough ^^. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2023 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking in particular of worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/240031/… . Life on Earth doesn't use electrical conductors for much, but elsewhere, who knows? I don't see any kind of logical contradiction there at all. Or worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/240000/…, where the question asks for a number and the answer gives a number - what's the problem even meant to be? $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 12, 2023 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ This is the only correct response to the posited argument. The best stories always ride, like a glorious iceberg or the highest mountain peak, upon a massive foundation of unseen, often unknown amount of worldbuilding. Worldbuilding provides the depth and breadth of knowledge upon which the wise writer can write their story from within the fictional world rather than from the perspective of the real world. N Virgo's response should be upvoted thousands of times just for making this one point. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 12, 2023 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ --- If that were true, then it would be our job --- our artistic duty --- to help the OP describe a world wherein the unstoppable meets the immovable. Keep in mind: we don't answer strictly real world questions, and that particular is a "logical contradiction" only in the real world. If a person asks that query here, we must assume that she is asking about a fictional world where this is not a logical contradiction. Also, none of those questions are logical contradictions. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 12, 2023 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Elemtilas Then prove us you can answer VLAZ's question, if it is answerable. I am sure I'll continuously find a non-matching, critical element which needs even more explanation, and the end world (both factually and doc-wise) will be a real mess to write a story on top of it. Note it's part of helping the user to not waste efforts in worldbuilding for minimal results $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2023 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I'll bite. One thing that could happen if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object is that time slows down, Zeno's paradox style. The thing exerting the force never stops moving towards the object, and the object never moves, but nobody in the entire universe ever experiences anything after the moment they meet each other. One can imagine a story where scientists have discovered such a situation will soon arise, and that therefore the world will effectively end on a certain date (and nothing can stop this). It wouldn't be out of place in an old science fiction magazine. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 13, 2023 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena --- Ask the question! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 13, 2023 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ @N.Virgo --- A Little Peace and Quiet (Twilight Zone) is a good, though not exact, fit. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 13, 2023 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas + N.Virgo It's probably going to take some time, so let's discuss about this question conundrum in chat. It'll pollute too much the answer otherwise ^^'. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2023 at 12:08
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A compelling enough story can cover pretty much any "failure" of worldbuilding. I've never seen worldbuilding salvage a poorly written story.

We should continue to discourage how do I explain/justify X questions. There are two major reasons for this:

  1. Such questions are too broad and open ended for this site.
  2. Explaining everything in your world is unnecessary and can negatively impact your stories.

Site policy is very clear that brainstorming and idea generation are not permitted on this site. From early discussions in our site's infancy onwards the consensus has always been that such questions were not to be asked here.

For a while we even had a custom close reason just for idea generation. The conversation around removing it was entirely around how it was unnecessary when we could already close such questions using build in close reasons.

As written, the idea-generation close reason doesn't cover anything not already covered by existing close reasons, specifically too broad and primarily opinion-based (too subjective). I think we should get rid of this close reason.

Since it's removal we have continued closing questions asking us brainstorm or generate ideas.

The reason Stack Exchange have upvotes on answers is to identify the correct answer. If there are many valid answers then this whole system breaks down. When asking how to handwave something literally any handwave will be an equally valid answer. This is why from the beginning such questions have not been permitted on this site.


We, hopefully, all agree that wizards, Jedi, hobbits, elves, witchers, space marines, mecha, blind swordsmen, pokemon, and any other fantastical element of our favorite stories, do not exist. There is no amount of explanation that will change this. When we engage with these worlds we already do so knowing full well that they are fake. Even a small child knows that these stories are unreal. Yet we keep coming back to them again and again. We're so drawn to them that we want to expand on them, or try our hand at creating worlds to tell stories of our own.

Telling a fantastic story that is grounded in reality is a red herring. All you need to do is tell us that an impossible thing exists and readers will buy into it. The challenge has never been explaining the impossible things. In fact explaining it draws attention to its impossibility and opens up the explanation to scrutiny. The more explanation there is, the greater the area in which some fault can be discovered.

The only time explaining the details is necessary is when understanding events of the story hinges on knowledge of the details. The rest of the time it's a barrier to engaging with the story. When we see the extensive lorebooks for popular franchises we tend to forget that the compelling stories came first. Only when people are already captivated by the story will they care about the lore. The only people who are in a position to poke holes in your worldbuilding are already won over by your writing. They are poking holes because that's another way to engage with the story you've created.

When we look at successful fantasy, and scifi authors you'll note that they're economical with their explanations. For all his detailed languages and histories, Tolkien never tells us how a creature of shadow and flame can exist, we just know that terror goes before them. In The Expanse spaceships follow the rules of Newtonian physics, we even get a few engine specs, but they never explain how the Epstein drive is able to far outperform any real world equivalent. They don't even attempt to explain how the Protomolecule is able to completely break our understanding of physics. What we can see from both these examples is a focus not on explaining things, but on setting the readers expectations.

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  • $\begingroup$ Those questions are no broader than others, closing them for that reason specifically would be an incorrect interpretation of the rules. But most importantly, you vastly underestimate the importance of worldbuilding. My "school case" is Star Wars 8, where the applied world rules truly ruined my experience, while the story was not that bad. But you could also take mondo movies : laser shooting animals completely blasted the tiny chance of the rest being taken seriously, though it made it a good candidate for laughing :p. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena The other questions should probably be closed as well. Show me any discussion that contradicts anything I’ve linked. Are you really saying that better worldbuilding would save a Mondo movie? I’ve personally found laser shooting animals to be ok when in a well written story. What’s the fact of the world that ruined Star Wars for you? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ This answer gels completely with my rationale for writing this question. But if the consensus here is that such questions should indeed be closed, why don't I see them being closed? $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Jan 11, 2023 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ There's also another extremely good reason to show, not tell: if you leave blanks for "how" in your story, readers will use their own imaginations to fill them in, which thus makes those readers more invested in your world. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Jan 11, 2023 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ People are ignorant of site policy or choose to not follow it. Mods tend to be conservative with casting close votes. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ @IanKemp This is exactly the counter argument I was thinking on why it can be a good idea to try to explain your world, because "show, don't tell" is a writing advice, not a worldbuilding one. If you explain all your world, this is bad writing, not necessarily bad worldbuilding :). A really good worldbuilding mixed with a really good writing will subtly show the nuances in the world's mechanisms. You'll be able to deduce why it was made, and you won't find rust because the world is finetuned $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Sphennings Let me clarify : I'm not telling that the "handwaving in reality" questions nor the other questions should not be closed. I'm saying that it is not an outstanding trait of such questions, and thus there's no added value in the argument of closing for being even broader than the others. An example won't suffice to prove it, and I fear that it will take a lot of time to give something reasonably sized, but it's what I see. Look at Ian's question, you'll find a blatant contradiction regarding this (this is part of my answer's draft :) ). [...] $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ [...] Regarding Star Wars 8, without spoiling too much... There were 3 I can recall : The most important one is about the cruisers's newly found use for combat they introduced very late. Because they added that possibility with story in mind first, everything before about space war became... Futile? Or made every general look very, very dumb to not have used that, especially at key plot points like the Death Star's battle in ep. VI. Point is, worldbuilding is the fundation of any deep works. if you don't take care of it it's impossible to bake a good story topping which matches in flavor. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena If you're going to show the capabilities not explain the mechanism when writing you don't need to create a specific mechanism in the first place. It seems like your concern with SW8 has more to do with how they presented the capabilities since you say "Introduced very late". Wouldn't that be a writing concern not a worldbuilding one? M works of fiction fill out the foundation of their world incrementally through follow up work. The extensive cannon of Star Wars today did not exist when A New Hope was created. The rest of the world would not have been built its story wasn't engaging. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Sphennings The issue is not that they introduced something new very lately, it's that they destroyed the other world premises about space fighting they set earlier. In other words, they dismissed their worldbuilding which resulted in a bad experience. Worldbuilding is sometimes like 3D effects : When it's done very well you need to squint to see it, but when it's badly done it's the first thing you'll criticize ^^. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Personally I was engaged enough with the story that I chose to just go with it rather than let it take me out of the experience. For me good writing compensated for an unexpected change in my expectations for the world. We both experienced the same world but it was how we engaged with it's presentation that made the difference. We all know that mecha are impractical for a multitude of reasons. However I love a good mecha story that conveniently forgets this fact and wows me with kickass action scenes, and a compelling plot. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Sphennings Sure, I don't mean that you must not have liked it ^^. But for me and some of my relatives, it did affect the experience. So care should be taken ^^. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Bad worldbuilding can take away from an experience. But good enough writing can cover for a multitude of worldbuilding sins. Remember that good writing is subjective. As my tastes change the worldbuilding flaws that distract me change as well. The worlds haven't changed just how the writing affects me. If the explanation mattered there could have been an info dump that would be able to smooth things over for you and allow you to continue to enjoy the movie. I suspect that any explanation would be distracting enough to disrupt your enjoyment further. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that good world building cannot save a bad story, but a good story can be utterly ruined by bad world building. Take the movie "After Earth" for example. The same general plot placed in another setting could have been good, but the Worldbuilding was so bad that it made the whole movie garbage. You don't always need to explain the science, but you do need to know when real science out right invalidates your ideas. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jun 6, 2023 at 21:44
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Too broad isn't the best closure reason.

Prior note : By closure reason, I mean the official choice (lacking focus, need details...) and its subsequent explanatory comment. It's because I expect people to choose one official reason -usually the most concerning one- then give explanations that is consistent with this choice.


As a starter, let's dig a doubt with an interesting contradiction I found when looking back at your post.

They [the questions] ultimately suffer the same problem: namely that there are a potentially infinite number of answers.

Yet you say a few lines before :

And the only correct answer is:

You've already required your audience to suspend their disbelief with your handwavium, why do you need science to justify it?

The truth is that broadness is not what distinguishes those questions from the others. More often than not (and as you more or less tell it), the most acceptable answer is "we can't explain it". Closing for being too-broad is therefore a wrong interpretation of the rules, even less in the case of their strict interpretation. Actually, the common trait of these questions is that they attempt to reconcile elements which cannot be put together, generally wild creations and real-world. It's like you cannot blend mustard and chocolate together, in a way.

However and indeed, those questions often lack some forethought, notably to fight back the instinct that more realistic is always better. Strong ties to real-world is only one of the viable intention among many. It looks safer to work with it, but often times having the courage to go mad can give much better results!

So... Presuming the question is showing mismatching intentions and in overall lack good worldbuilding, there are four paths you can take which work much better within the rules. They are also more likely to be applicable than other solutions :

Some better alternatives

Downvoting the question

It's very simple: Someone offered something impossible and it seems they thought too quickly about what they want. They would also probably made a failed attempt at good worldbuilding in general. Thus, as stated by the downvote description :

This question does not show any research effort. It is unclear or not useful.

It can therefore be freely downvoted. Still, note that the point at which you will actually downvote is very personal; Some will have very strict criteria, others will almost never hit that arrow pointing down.

Answering the question, telling this is impossible

This is also known as a frame-challenge. I actually did this for the space fairy question. The intended goal is to remind in a friendly manner that they're likely trying to perform the impossible, and that this might hurt them in the long term.

To remind an old post, frame-challenge as answers should take on at least partially the question or the intent behind it, you mustn't just throw away the idea like some trash in a can. Offer alternatives, give inspiration for something new. If you can't give such thing, It's better told in comments to make it less official and more convivial. Ah and remember : it's perfectly alright for a question to have no answer if no answer can be found : The absence of viable answers is an answer of some sort.

Closing the question for being opinion-based

This one will surely stir reactions : Why would it be opinion-based? Let's first define some common grounds for when opinion-based closure should happen :

  • When people are deliberately asking for opinions, or when they just want to engage a discussion (source.
  • A common reason is when there is no way to scale answers appropriately. In other words, that there are no objectively better answers than others1.

With that in hand, let's look at the question : If it is impossible to answer (can't match real-world and hand-waved elements), it means that the premises prevent it. You'd therefore need to change the world and question premises to not reach absurd conclusions. But the issue is : Which one to remove?!

This very question's answer is heavily subject to the querent's personal choice as they should know best what they wish to do. In other words, the question is dependent on one's opinion, and is thus opinion-based by both lack of better answers and (more or less deliberate) asking for opinions.

Personally, I only do this when there are critical components at play. For instance, "How can I realistically kill my immortal character?" is a logical contradiction in and of itself : If "kill" and "immortal" are using the common definition, we'd have to remove one of the premise to start answering. Alas, we can't tell whether it's best the character is killed or be unkillable. Any answer's quality will be therefore inherent to what the readers/querent actually want to conserve than more objective conditions.

Closing the question for lacking details

When facing impossibilities, it happens sometimes that the querent just didn't explain enough what they want exactly. If someone asks how to explain vampires can only be killed by wooden stakes, it could be that they do not want to know how they cannot be killed by other means (guns, rocket launchers...), but how they are especially vulnerable to wood. The first is barely answerable in regard to known sciences, but the latter makes more sense and is more likely to display better worldbuilding intents. Sometimes, some clarification is all you need for a change of perspective and make the question more answerable.


1 : There must be a post stating it explicitly somewhere, but I can't find it back. In any case this is a recurrent comment you can find on closed for being opinion-based questions.

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    $\begingroup$ Is it really worth it to quibble about whether a question should be closed as too broad vs too opinion based. If an answer hinges on my opinion then there necessarily are multiple valid answers for alternate opinions. Sometimes a question asks multiple questions, isn't about worldbuilding, while also being too broad, and opinion based. The question should be closed, and selecting any of those reasons would be a valid choice. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Sphennings I answered the proposal exactly as told, which let's recall, is this : "As such, I posit that by entertaining such questions here we are doing writers a massive disservice, and consequently that we should be doing a far more zealous job of closing them as "too broad" as soon as they're posted.". If we want rigorous closures, we should first think what each closure reason actually mean and when to put them. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ The close reason has no impact VTC VTRO process. What value is there in debating which close reason to select on a question that should be closed? There is enough overlap between broad and POB that, most of the time, both reasons will be valid. Each of our close reasons covers a whole slew of issues. For instance Broad covers questions that fail the book test, and questions that have many valid answers. POB also covers questions with many valid answers since determining the right answer is a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ We probably should add more granular close reasons for clarity. But that's an unrelated discussion. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Sphennings But the truth is that questions are not all opinion-based and lacking focus! You should take into account all the Venn's diagram of possibilities! If you think that a question should be closed anyway you're missing at least half of the questions which don't fall in those cases. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Sphennings the proposal explicitly asks to close questions for being too broad. We shouldn't let the community and new askers be confused by contradicting elements because "too broad" means this proposal too now and their questions (like "Can my giant be realistically 100m tall?") don't match the general definition of "being too broad" as there's only one answer. This is already hard for people to stay consistent and clear in closures and reopenings, let's not add oil to the fire. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ You're misrepresenting the class of questions. OP isn't asking about "Is x realistic?" OP is asking about "How do I justify an unrealistic X?" If something is unrealistic you cannot explain it away into realism without fundamentally changing it. Choosing how to fundamentally change it, or making up a convincing sounding explanation both require a judgement call from the answerer, and permit many equally valid answers. The class of question necessarily meets both the broad and POB definitions. However it's more convenient to say "this has many valid answers" when explaining closure $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ If justifying 100m giant, it's just as valid to say "Don't worry about it. Giants are cool!", "Our best minds have been stumped as to why.", "They are in the favor of the god of unusually big things.", "Cellular antigravity fields", or something convincing about the material properties of their skeleton. These are some of my opinions about how to answer that question. Note how it's both too broad given the number of answers, and POB. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Sphennings But you won't be answering actually the question, as you aren't trying to answer "realistically". In other words, this is a frame-challenge. This is why "how can X realistically be done?" and "Can X realistically exist?" (which hidden intent is usually the first question, btw) only have none or only one answer : "It's impossible with real-world science". None or one depending on what you define as an answer :). $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:54

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