This recent question about a dragon's pursuit of human prey brought to mind a question I thought of a while back, but never asked. This question is more about strategy and tactics than a specific character's actions (I think), but when does a question cross the boundary between being about something on-topic and being about the actions of a character, which is defined as off-topic in the help section?

The perspective in the linked question gives a nice refresher from the typical answers on Worldbuilding, but seems to edge into plot development (also off-topic). However, I quite enjoy writing snippets of fiction (and I have already provided my own answer to the question), so this question is merely about when it is proper to close a question for the reason it is about a single character's actions.

  • $\begingroup$ I probably don't have enough perspective to write an answer, but there are quite a few character questions that might have been closed, and often weren't because it was popular. So you should probably consider a story happening in a different world, and maybe a character arc BECAUSE of that world. But the bottom line is probably, if you're going to ask about a character, do it well. Popular questions are less likely to be closed. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Aug 3 '15 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ I had a lot of fun writing that question. I can see how it walks a vague line between tactics and character reaction (the former is answerable, the latter is not) and I'm glad it came down on the strategy/tactics side. $\endgroup$ – Green Aug 3 '15 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ This is very much a fine line but for some reason when questions are off topic in this regard it seems very obvious. If the gist of the question is "How would this character act" or "what would this character do" it is very much off topic. But never doubt the power of a well framed question on world-building. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 3 '15 at 15:01

I don't think there can be a hard-and-fast rule about when a question is about an individual character, when it is about plot events and when it is about worldbuilding. At some point, it comes down to judgement calls about specific questions.


A good rule of thumb would probably be:

  • if the answer will affect all characters in your world equally (possibly restricted to all characters of a given species only, based on the capabilities of that species), then the question is likely about worldbuilding and thus on topic for us
  • if the answer will affect different characters in different ways, or the answer will be different for different characters, then the question is likely either about plot or (more likely) individual characters and thus off topic for us

Note that as described in the help center, the "world" does not have to be the whole planet or the whole universe:

A setting might not be a planet; it can be larger than a multiverse or smaller than a village.

The reasoning for the bullet points above is that when you are dealing with individual characters, or plot, what happens to one character will be different from what happens to another character or how another character perceives those same events. However, when you are dealing with worldbuilding, everyone who perceives the element or event will perceive it in essentially the same way.

  • A group of charging unicorns would appear basically the same to everyone, and would be (largely) the same thing regardless of whether you are in front of or behind them, given that the unicorns remain the same. The capabilities of the unicorns do not change.
  • How a particular individual reacts to those unicorns charging toward them would be different for every character.

Hence, the former is about worldbuilding, and the latter is about individual characters' actions.

  • $\begingroup$ Quick question: How could something be "larger than a multiverse"? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 3 '15 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Well, if the multiverse is merely a simulation on the largest computer to ever exist, then the computer is larger than the multiverse. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 3 '15 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ This answer over on SciFi reminded me about the above discussion about "larger than a multiverse". @HDE226868 $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 14 '15 at 12:31

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