Assistance to fight off a silicon-based lifeform was asked from an in-universe point of view, and another user added a comment to the question that suggested making the in-universe approach "the required way to ask questions on this website".

I thought about it for a while and realized that the approach works well for questions like that one where a character can discover something's existence and wonder how it might have come to be, what a creature's biology might be like, what vulnerabilities it might have, etc. The advantage of an in-universe approach is that it encourages users to think through what information their characters might be able to perceive about something and what the characters actually might need to know to make the story work. It avoids overly broad questions by forcing the asker to be specific enough in exposition that answerers have something to go on.

But I don't think it would work so well for questions of the form "Starting from a given initial condition, what would happen to a particular environment, species, or institution?" that happen often when creating the protagonist's own corner of the world. These are things that any character is expected to know just from having grown up in the setting, like these:

So here's my question: For what questions do we want to encourage an in-universe point of view?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't believe "the required way to ask questions on this website" was a serious suggestion, more an exaggerated way of showing appreciation for the way this specific question was asked. :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 17:29

5 Answers 5


Questions that involve a specific character or kind of character's means of dealing with a given circumstance or solving a given problem.

The narrative point of view can be used to show, rather than tell, the information known about the problem from the point of view of the people who need to solve it. This helps the question asker keep the assumptions about the problem limited to what the character would know in that given situation.

The narrative point of view can also help keep answers on topic, as the answerer feels compelled to answer in the same perspective. This discourages purely speculative answers, as well as off-topic ones.

This is not to say that all questions should be asked in this manner. Especially considering that most of our questions would be along the lines of:

"Hello, I am god. What would happen when two planets collide?"

I would say that we do not encourage one way or the other. We can make it known that asking a question in this manner is accepted, perhaps a tag that says this is "In-Universe".


While I love the way the question has been written, it is in danger of reading as though it were character specific and thus in danger of looking off-topic. They should be the occasional fun exception rather than the rule.

While I really enjoyed reading that question and look forward to more in the same vein, if this was the main kind of question new users saw, it may muddy the water as to what exactly is acceptable for new users, since that question is dangerously close to "Specific actions of individual characters, rather than the world they inhabit" just by the way that it is phrased. As such, I think that they should be the exception rather than the rule.

We should not encourage an because for every question written this way we then have to carefully check that it isn't actually a character plot question (which are off-topic), and potentially reword them if they seem to be. IF we get too many written like this, we might even have to considering banning them.

I believe @MadMAxJr said it well when he said "I'm going to start reading every question on this site as if were a bunch of cosmic deities asking for how-to help with creation."


Honestly I don't think it's something to either encourage or discourage

Questions are either clear or not.

They are either on topic or not.

Stylistic choices don't alter that fundamental criteria by which questions are either closed or left open. It's not like we've had a flood of questions in a similar style and even if we did, so long as those questions are clear then what's the problem?

  • $\begingroup$ I generally agree, though I do think we should keep an eye on these questions. If we do get flooded by bad questions of this format, we don't want to have a ton of edgy questions in the same format as an argument why these questions should be on-topic. $\endgroup$
    – overactor
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I'm saying though. Don't use the style as a reason to close those questions. They're off topic so they are closed, style is irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 9:52

This type of writing is only acceptable as a supplement to a normal question.

This type of question could spawn a bunch bad questions trying to replicate its success.

While I too love this particular question, I believe it sets a bad example as it is. The biggest problem is that new users might make the assumption that this sort of question is encouraged when they see the great response it got and try to emulate it. Since new users never read the meta, how to ask page or even the short tour, they will mainly use the questions they see as a reference when asking (or answering) questions.

The format has a few issues as it is.

While this type of question does indeed encourage answerers to reflect more (or at least differently) about their answers, it also discourages thinking about the question ina larger context. This question asks what a specific character should do in a specific situation. Where the focus of the question should actually be: I (as a writer) want to have X, how would this be handled by Y and does this pose any problems? In this case, there is a very good overlap but this might not always be the case.

It is not clear what information is intentionally left out and what is accidentally forgotten. This format hardly allows for explaining which factors you know could play a role but don't because of handwaving or prior decisions that were made without complicating the narrative. Additionally, it's also difficult to provide a lot of necessary information about the world this question is set in and teh type of answers you are looking for.

My conclusion

Including a (well written) narrative like this into a question is great way to pull people in and get them interested, but some out-of-universe framing will always be helpful and indicate to new users that defining what you are asking for in your question (regardless of how it is written) is important. For these reasons, the question shoudl either be edited or closed as "unclear what you're asking".

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not actually sure if this is the right course of action, but I added this answer so members who are opposed to this sort of question can cast their vote. Personally, I'm on the fence. $\endgroup$
    – overactor
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 9:34


That is, encourage no questions to ask and be answered from an in-universe point of view. Equally, you don't need to discourage any, necessarily.

There's at least three things that are going to be vital to questions here:

  1. That questions and answers are clear.
  2. That they're of good quality.
  3. That people have fun.

Creating some kind of official encouragement or, rather, pressure to use an in-universe point of view compromises all three, because:

  1. It's usually not going to be the clearest way of asking a question. When it is in-universe and clear, great!
  2. People feeling forced to use an in-universe point of view when they don't want to is going to lead to unclear, low quality work. Better leave it to the people who want to do it.
  3. Fun stuff like this is fun only when it's by choice, not when it's being enforced by the fun police. Manatory fun is like Party Cat.

So leave it for when people want to do it and do a good job of it. It can work really well! But don't ave an official position of encouragement or discouragement. Just ensure questions and answers are clear and of good quality, make suggestions when improvement is available or needed, and when the improvement involves not being in-universe, suggest that.


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