See also: When should I close a question as "Too Story Based"?

Asking about plot elements such as the actions of characters, rather than about the world in which your story takes place, is off-topic on Worldbuilding. Capabilities of characters within a world and creation of groups of characters (like nations) are on-topic, but questions must focus on what is possible or likely to develop, not what someone would or should do.

Questions about the back story of a character are also prone to being Too Story Based. Checking whether a specific element of a back story that you have already written is possible or likely is probably on topic; however "write this for me" is not. You should also be careful to explain why the back story is relevant to the world and building that world, rather than being just development of that character.

This is because only the person who is developing a plotline can decide how characters will act or the plots will develop. Worldbuilding can determine what is possible, but the choices about what happens given those possibilities belong to the author.

  • I somehow feel this isn't getting enough attention in the sense of answers. It only has one, and it's not accepted. The list should be longer so people with questions closed under this reason should be able to have a larger resource for editing their questions. – FoxElemental Jun 21 at 15:03
  • @FoxElemental more responses here would certainly be welcome - that's one reason I never accepted my self-answer, I was giving other people a chance to have their say. – Tim B Jun 21 at 16:02

Rephrase the question to remove all references to individual actions and any "should" or "would" parts of the question.

Off topic: Would Joe Marine 17 climb this hill wearing his backpack

On topic: Could a well-trained marine wearing a 30kg weight backpack complete a 1-mile route with 500' of ascent in 10 minutes

Off topic: Would government X pass law Y

On topic: What could cause a government to pass such-and-such law given these societal conditions

Be careful when you are doing this not to make the question too broad, it should still be specific and answerable. In many cases the best way to get a good result is to give the outcome you are looking for and ask how to achieve it. Asking for motives and reasons that characters may use though is likely to be off topic, whereas asking whether something is physically possible is on topic.

  • Sorry for the stupid question: ok, "should" and "would" goes away, how about the "could"s? – Gray Sheep Sep 28 '17 at 22:15

Why is my question "Too Story Based"

The key difference between Story based and World based is Will vs Can respectively.

For example.

Will Joe Marine climb this mountain? <character and mountain specs>

That depends

  • Is he lazy?
  • Why is he there?
  • What motives does he have for vs against?
  • How's his life insurance?

If you can easily negate any answer by adding story details that can completely alter the dynamics of the situation, It's probably too story based.

VS

Can Joe Marine climb this mountain? <character and mountain specs>

Yes

<insert reference of ex-marine climbing a mountain without tools>

This answer is very hard to invalidate. Given a fitness level, and climbing difficulty, we can project how probable it is for Joe to achieve this task. You can add him getting shot at by snipers and mortars, but the answer is still he can. (That would make it much harder, but it is still possible)


A good rule of thumb test is try your best to answer your own question based on what you know. Now read the question again, but replace your world with another, completely different one, at the same tech level with the same restrictions (ex, Change Star Trek setting to Star Wars setting). Is your answer significantly weaker/stronger/invalidated now? If the answer is yes, it's too story bound.


How do I get it reopened

As you can see in the above examples, A Story vs World based question can be very subtle. One word was the difference between a fact-check question, and a highly controversial opinionated question. (That was intentional to draw attention to how blurry the line can be) So here are some guidelines to refining your story question into a world question.

Remove story details as much as possible. Focus on the restrictions the world places on the situation

You can also think of this as a "world transference rating". If you want to create a new world where this question could be applied, how hard would it be to apply the same answer to the new world/setting? Ideally, the same logic should apply to all worlds. So unless the new world has a mechanic that would complicate the answer, the same question/answer should work. (The affect of the new mechanic would be a new question, as you've changed the applicable world restrictions. Ex. continuous storm vs storm island. If the storm can't move, that changes the restrictions on how plausible the storm is.)

You can also read this as "remove as much information as you can without changing the actual question" Details beyond that are usually story fluff, and distract from the main question. This is why a lot of questions include "in this genre/world type" It establishes your worldly limitations without binding it to a specific story.

Facts are always better than opinions

Look to obtain verifiable, measurable information. While the usefulness of a C-4 boomerang is arguable, you can verify that it is (A) possible to make and (B) can do things normal grenades can't. In general, the more immutable the statements of an answer can be, the better the answer. So the question should ask for those kinds of answers.

It is common for questions to follow the form "Given these restrictions, what kind of outcome could I expect it to have?" or "What restrictions/events could cause this end state?"

  • An excellent description, thanks for writing this :) – Tim B Jun 26 at 19:59

A conversation with the OP of this question led to the following response (modified for the general audience).

Systems vs. Circumstances

Worldbuilding is the process of describing systems. People may be involved in some of those systems (e.g., a bureaucracy), but it's not the people you're building, it's the system. Here at WB.SE, the moment you ask about the actions or behavior of people (not systems), you begin running the risk of being too story-based (and almost always will be).

The smaller the "world," the less likely you're asking about a system

In times past we have described "worlds" as being of any size, from a multiverse down to a small town — but not individuals or even small groups of people (generally). The smaller the number of people you're asking about, the more story-based your question is. Ask about a single individual and with very rare exception, you're storybuilding, not worldbuilding. This is because even a god, when acting individually, does not constitute a system. Rather, the actions of even so consequential a being are circumstantial.

The most popular form of a story-based question is "How would somebody X?" This is asking about the actions or options available to individuals or a group of people (storybuilding). The questions we accept at WB.SE are about rules that would be applied to your characters, not how your characters would react... to what?

And that's the problem. "To what?"

  • A question about individuals is on-topic when asking about how those individuals would react to the rules (systems) of your world.

  • A question is off-topic (too story-based) when asking about how individuals react to circumstances in your world.

Systems vs. circumstances.

The definition may seem counterintuitive, but serves a purpose

Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. But the moment we start helping people past what is essentially writer's block, a discussion is what we're having. To accomodate Stack Exchange's fundamental business model, we had to draw a line.

But never forget that Chat is your friend!

Nevertheless, please do not pass up the opportunity to use Chat (especially the Factory Floor), as it's frequented by many of our most active participants, and chat is where discussions belong. There, you can ask pretty much anything you want.

How do I get my question reopened?

You need to change your question to ask about a system, not a circumstance. It's possible that your question cannot be changed in this way because you really are trying to overcome writer's block and the circumstance cannot be disposed of. But if you are simply worldbuilding, you may have cornered yourself in the test.

What I mean by "test" is that rules need testing, and characters are frequently the subjects of the test. Perhaps the rule you're developing is that your world's atomosphere has a high concentration of nitrous oxide.

  • An on-topic question would be, how do I get my atmosphere to contain 15% nitrous oxide?

  • Another would be, are humans susceptible to 15% nitrous oxide such that they'd go around giggling all the time?

  • A potentially off-topic question would be, how would humans behave in an atmosphere of 15% nitrous oxide? (too broad)

  • But to make the too story-based point: how would my army react to invading orcs if my atmosphere has 15% nitrous oxide? We're no longer talking about a system, or the reaction of a group to the system. We're now talking about the reaction of a group to a circumstance that happens to involve the system — and that depends too much on your story (who has what weapons, how serious is the situation, what is the lay of the land, what resources are available, etc., etc., etc.).

But, the military engagement, which probably comes from your story, is really a test for whether or not it makes sense for your world's atmosphere to have 15% nitrous oxide.

Change your question to focus on the system, not the circumstances of the test.

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