Thank you for your help reviewing the first post: We're going to upgrade the Help Center page, here is the 100,000-foot-view discussion of the what-we-cans and what-we-can'ts

We've got an idea of where we want to go and it's time to start digging into the policies. Based on comments and answers from that first question, it's obvious that the future of storybuilding will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, discussion concerning policies. The goal of this question is to gather information about what story-question policy or policies we want and where to impose limits, if any.

Review of Existing Policies

1. Help Center: We don't help people write stories

Today's fundamental rule.

When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story. (Source)

2. Help Center: We don't answer questions about character choices

Character choices have been deemed too dependent on the circumstances of the story to be worldbuilding.

If a system, event or element of the world is causing you problems we are here to help. If on the other hand you aren’t sure what a character (be it an individual or organization) should do, that is out of scope for the site. (Ibid.)

3. VTC:Too Story-Based

A specialized form of "VTC:Opinion-Based" reflecting the concern that a question is too dependent on the circumstances or plot of the story to be worldbuilding. The VTC reason is based on an existing Meta policy statement linked in the VTC close reason text (see below).

You are asking questions about a story set in a world instead of about building a world. For more information, see Why is my question "Too Story Based" and how do I get it opened?. (Source: "Close" link -> "A Community-Specific Reason" -> Option #2)

Please note that I plan on introducing another question about how to handle SE's required VTC:Opinion-Based close reason. Please don't address that here. Thanks!

4. Brainstorming Discouraged

Brainstorming, also called fishing for ideas or (raw) idea generation, has had a love-hate relationship on this Stack. It's true that a brainstorming question isn't always a storybuilding question, but it's too often true that a storybuilding question is a brainstorming question. Thus, it's included here.

If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange might not be a good place for your question. (Source)

5. High Concept Questions

High concept questions have the basic form of suggesting a seemingly small but specific change and asking what the large and ambiguous consequences would be. Answering them usually results in writing a significant part of the story (if only in bullet list form) or determining significant plot points and don't reflect story-independent world rules. As with Brainstorming, it's not true that all HCQs are storybuilding questions, but it's too often true that storybuilding questions are HCQs. The original policy post is here. I wrote a summary that might be a good description of the policy here.

The first thing to do when coming across such a question, in my mind, is to vote to close as too broad. Sorry, but as posed (and I have seen a few such examples myself, so I know what you mean), it's simply asking for far too much. It cannot meaningfully be answered in its current form, particularly within the Stack Exchange format, and therefore should be closed. Remember the so-called book test: if you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much. (Source)

6. Narrative necessity

Not a policy per-se, but this has been used to help worldbuilders understand the line between worldbuilding and storybuilding from the perspective of, "this has no objective answer because the question can only be resolved via narrative necessity." It is included for completeness.

Like all great ideas, the notion of narrative necessity is really quite simple. At its most fundamental, it means quite literally that any story (as story) needs certain things to happen, otherwise there is no story worth telling. (Source) ... Narrative necessity means the story comes first. (Source)

7. To Storybuilding.SE or not to Storybuilding SE?

Storybuilding questions on this Stack are popular. Not a little popular, they're very popular. It makes moderating story-based questions difficult. Though it's been discussed before, I recently pitched the idea of sending "Storybuilding.SE" to Area 51. At this time, Stack Exchange sees the combination of four Stacks as having solved that problem. In other words, considering the limits of Writing.SE, Freelancing.SE and Literature.SE, Stack Exchange sees Worldbuilding as the place people go to for storybuilding questions (yes, I'm putting words in their mouths a little bit... but only a little bit). I am NOT reintroducing the pitch for a new Stack. I'm including this because strong opinions relating to story-based questions were expressed.

However, I do need to caution that, with the existence of Worldbuilding, Writers, Freelancing, and Literature, the topic of story development is already quite thoroughly covered by existing ground. (Source)

General vs. Specific Issues

As you contemplate this discussion, try to keep in mind the general goals we want for this Stack vs. the specific policies that would enforce those goals. In other words, first answer the question "Do we want to allow storybuilding?" If no, post that belief and why! If yes, ask yourself, "to what extent to we wish to allow storybuilding questions?" Then explain in as much detail as you can imagine how to enforce your belief.

If I have missed a relevant policy statement regarding storybuilding, please either point to it in a comment or edit this post to include it! Thanks!

Also, it should be noted that when we're ready to proceed with the Help Center upgrade, it will include editing all previous policy Meta posts with a line like, "this policy has been superseded, see [Link]" so the past doesn't come back to haunt us.


2 Answers 2


We should embrace the madness

From the moment this Stack graduated from Area 51 it has tried... valiantly, nobly, and with substantial effort... to separate worldbuilding from storybuilding. In a nutshell so simplified that it makes angels weep:

Worldbuilding is the objective development of the structure of an imaginary natural world situated within a universe of rules defined and consistently applied by its designer — or the similarly objective design of cultures, civilizations, and technologies — to be used as the framework for stories or game play.

Storybuilding is the subjective effort to develop a narrative involving the lives of individuals and their choices — or similarly a subjective history — that are necessarily dependent on the goals of the author and therefore cannot enjoy a definitive "best answer" in terms of Stack Exchange's basic design without first identifying the needed answer to explain the terms of that decision.

The problem is, no matter how much we want to exclude storybuilding questions... we like answering storybuilding questions.

No matter how much we try to fight it, many questions end up being deep in opinion, and everyone likes giving their opinion. (Source)

I too like questions about story building. Good ones anyway! (Source)

But, for people capable of providing answers to impossible or crazy situations, we seem singularly unable to articulate what sort of questions we like. This is in part because we rule by committee, but I also think it's because the scope of this site is somewhat ambiguous to begin with. (Source)

We weren't like any site that had been seen before. We were trying to be a community of artists and writers and game designers and illustrators and storytellers and, most of all, people who do these things for fun. That's the important bit; while fun often gets in the way of Q+A, most of us are building worlds and helping others do the same as a hobby. Not a job. (Source)

Yes, the robot and heroine have names . . . because the woman accompanying the robot is, of course, the protagonist of the story... (Ibid.)

I included that last quote because it underscores the dual-nature that we've tried unsuccessfully for nearly ten years to deny. A few people might be building worlds for its own sake... but most people are building worlds because they're writing stories. Slartibotfast and Pandora standing together right now at the left edge of your screen — erasing one or the other simply doesn't make sense. Neither should stand alone. (And the irony of a symbol of our Stack named Pandora mentioned while discussing the formal introduction of storybuilding questions on this Stack is not lost on me.)

Metaphors aside, I propose the following policy changes:

  1. Brainstorming should graduate from "might not be a good place for your questions" to "isn't a good place for your questions." Half the price for the privilege of asking storybuilding questions is the requirement that a specific goal or expectation for a "best answer" must be described. We'll help you build your story, but we're not going to participate in spitballing. Ask a specific question or don't ask it here.

  2. The Help Center statement that we help build worlds, not tell stories, is simply deleted.

  3. The prohibition against character choices should remain. We can help an author identify what the choices might be, but we should not choose for the author which choice should be taken. That depends too much on information we simply don't have, including the ability to read the author's mind concerning the goals or messages of their story.

  4. The VTC:Too Story-Based close reason is removed from the close vote options. (I will not speak about the VTC:Opinion-Based problem here. It must be dealt with in another post because it's not one we can remove.)

  5. The prohibition against High Concept Questions should also remain. The other half of the price for the privilege to ask storybuilding questions is that the scope of the question must be within the (arguably vague) context of the Book Rule. We'll help you write your book, we will not write that book, or even a significant part of that book, for you. I see HCQs as just another form of brainstorming.

NOTE: At this point it would be appropriate to pose a site-acceptable definition of what a good storybuilding question would look like. I'm going to take a crack at that while knowing that it will be imperfect because my single opinion cannot embrace all of the madness and, thus, create definitive order out of chaos. Here goes.

A good storybuilding question is an objective request for help resolving a story development problem by asking a community of users with a wide variety of skills and talents to offer insight into the possible resolutions of that problem. It is not a request for ideas to choose from, also known as brainstorming or raw idea generation, but a directed effort that includes conditions, restrictions and limits combined with an explanation of goals and expectations (usually taking the form of why the question has been asked). Questions left intentionally vague for the purpose of maximizing the number of provided options are prohibited.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think it should be clarified that said story development query must come from within a worldbuilding context. It's one thing for Tolkien to ask us if it makes sense for Frodo to ultimately fail within the context of MIddle Earth; quite another for Clancy to ask us if Ramius's deception makes sense within the context of cold war era Earth. In other words, a good story building question ought to marry narrative and world into a unified whole. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 18 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ On the five policy changes: 1 agreed; 2 agreed; 3 agreed; 4 agreed on both parts; 5 deferred. If HCQ and brainstorming are essentially the same, why do we have both concepts? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 18 at 6:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas The brainstorming statement in the help center came after the HCQ Meta Post. I actually don't know where it came from. I don't remember any community discussion concerning it. Whether you consider brainstorming and HCQs the same/similar or not, HCQs still violate the book rule in every case I've seen. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 19 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, that's fair. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 19 at 20:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Readies the pen, paper, and merfolk crafting equipment. - Fuck yes, let's do it. It pains me a lot to avoid answering questions that the rules say they are bad but my heart wish nothing else but take part in the creation of that fiction. Let's do it, let's frigging go! $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Apr 11 at 23:38

What is Storybuilding?

Is storybuilding the same as writing? I would argue that it is not (precisely) the same thing as writing. Writing of course is an art that is learned the same way as painting or composing music. While painting takes raw materials such as paints and uses tools to create a visual image, so writing takes raw materials such as words and uses tools to create a literary image. Storybuilding is different in its raw materials. Of course, words are one of the storybuilder's fundamental building blocks. But there are others that a non-fiction writer does not have to deal with, such as eliciting the world through writing motifs and themes or combining in-world culture with out-world language to compose a naturalistic whole.

Storybuilding is thus almost a different kind of art. It combines composition of a written document, the story, with the sensibilities of a world maker. The storybuilder is thus more aware of the fictional world and the role it plays within the written story. The goal of the storybuilder, apart from good writing, is to bring the world to life from within the narrative.

What kinds of storybuilding questions do we like here anyway? Good storybuilding queries ought to be seen as quite distinct from writing queries. Questions of grammar, mechanics, pragmatics, publishing options, etc. should all be banned here. Whatever Writing.SE and English Language & Usage.SE accept should be forbidden here.

Storybuilding, still offers quite a range of possible questions for us to handle:

  • Queries that pose interesting narrative conundrums that fuse world system with action of character: considering for example the question of whether or not it makes sense for one of the protagonists to have failed in his given mission, given the context of the world the character lives in and the story is about.
  • Queries that are proposed in terms of character choice, but really are fundamentally world system oriented
  • Queries that are highly imaginative and creative in and of themselves: perhaps a question considering the deep integration of an invented language or a culture within the fabric of the narrative itself, in other words, the fictional elements become an integral part of the non-fictional elements
  • Queries that ask us to evaluate the story of the world itself --- its history --- (see this answer to a meta query). "Since history is, from a practical point of view, a story..." I would argue that history is also an artifact of the world.
  • Queries that ask us to evaluate a story in terms of the world it is set in, or is proposed to be set in.

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