Suppose someone has asked "How could I do this thing in my fiction world?" or "If such a thing happened in my fiction world, what would be the consequences?" As such, the question is completely on-topic for this site.

However, it has happened here rather often that the answer to the question turns out to be, "It exists, right here, right now, in this non-fiction world. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about it."

Suddenly, in a bit of an ex post faco sense, the question is no longer about World Building per se, but rather physics, astronomy, biology, history, or some other perfectly good neighboring SE site.

Here are six examples I found with just a cursory glance around a few minutes ago (granted I have participated in five of these either as answerer or commenter).

My thinking is let it be, as it does add to this site. The OP probably had no idea such a thing could be, and learned from it. I mean, how often does the zombie ant fungus come up in every day conversation? But you know about it now!

I am curious what others have to say.

  • $\begingroup$ These are almost always downvote worthy IMO - if it exists in the real world, and was found by an answerer so quickly, it only provides evidence towards the case of the OP not doing their own research. $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 9 '16 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Aify Is it proper to downvote questions based on the answers they produce? Answerers (typically) do their own research to write a good answer and may search longer or know what to search for better than the questioner. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 9 '16 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Aify- Thank you for the counter argument. Allow me to counter-counter by pointing out that there is a big difference between "it exists" and "it is common knowledge" or even "it is easily looked-up." I coincidentally knew a little about the Trojan and Greek asteroid groups, and about the August 1972 meteor skip. Thucydides happened to know about the blue ringed octopus, and Phillipp about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus. Did you know about all of those things before now? Would you have been able to find them via a routine web-search? $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Aug 9 '16 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @cobaltduck it's exactly because I did a routine web search and found those answers that I deemed the OP not having done enough of their own research. $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 9 '16 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I use a 3-3-3 question system to figure out if a question has enough research done. Succinctly put, I ask the question 3 times in different ways. I click on the first 3 links each time I do this and read them. In each link, if there's (up to 3) words/things I don't understand, I search those up. After all that, if I STILL haven't found the answer, then I give the question an "OK" for research done. $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 9 '16 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Aify Your proposed method would leave worldbuilding.SE almost empty. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 10 '16 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira No, it wouldn't leave worldbuilding.SE empty - but it would certainly prevent a lot of stupid questions. Proof that it wouldn't leave WB empty? My profile... because I apply this 3-3-3 rule before I ask my own questions. $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 11 '16 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Aify- I request that you coalesce your comments into an answer here. Even though yours seems to be the minority opinion, I would like to have your thoughts documented for the future. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Aug 12 '16 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I'm crazy, but I rely, sometimes too heavily even, on SE as part of my research. Usually, the questions I ask, especially technical, are answered within the top 5 links of a browser query, but at least one SE board. That should tell you how popular and not-supid most questions are. And if you are downvoting a non-duplicate question becasue the question can be answered elsewhere, you are doing an extreme disservice to the SE community, in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 16 '16 at 17:26

Things don't have to be fantasy/fiction to be on topic for world building.

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers, artists and others using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings.

If I am working on a world where I want to (as an example) create a city out of sandstone buildings, that is on-topic even though the only thing that is fictional is the world in which I am placing said buildings.

We often delve into the way our world works as a recipe for building an imagined world.

In the end the world is a really complex place and none of us know everything.

Properly framing a question to demonstrate it is in support of world building helps significantly in ensuring a question is well received.


If you are building a kingdom in your world and are unsure how communication could work in some given scenario (the asker provides the parameters) it could be completely based on the real world.

In the case of a question where there is no magic the answer very likely lies in the real world methods of pre-electronic communication.

If the question provides details, for example technology level, geography, distances etc. We can craft a well written answer based solely off of real world history.

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    $\begingroup$ Quite often reality can be used as a template for imaginary worlds or to create alternative versions. For example, China didn't the glass technology of the West historically, so what if China invented glass during their medieval epochs? That requires an interplay between knowledge of glass technology and Chinese history to build an alternative China. Compare this with an alternative China where kungfu is based on super-powers. Only one alternative China is more fictional than the other, but they both arise from worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 11 '16 at 12:56

Even if it does exist in the real world, those incidents of it existing here will help them build it in their world. It can get a little ridic. We can use real-world references to build our own.

I asked about wergild in one of my questions, and the real-world pricing was very helpful. I had already researched it and found a lack of information on how children were valued, so I wanted to know what made sense, grounding it on what's come before. One of the posters came back at me with a fairly comprehensible first-point source which covered some of the things around my question, if not specific to it.

I feel that it does add to the site, up to a point. Some questions (like the bronze colored sky one) don't seem to be something that has already existed, to me at least, and I would never know that without going to that question and seeing that answer, but others (like the zombie one) seem like they've been answered in fiction for decades, and I would be surprised if it's not a duplicate question.


The question is still on-topic because:

  • Author's intent holds that they believed it to be fictional
  • It provides a resource to future users who also might believe it to be fictional.

At some point, though, you do travel to absurdity. Where that line lays is a judgement call. Ultimately Stack Exchange is intended to be a resource for future visitors more than it is meant to be a solution-finder for a current poster. That's why you're intended to upvote answers that would help someone else in the future, even if it doesn't necessarily help you personally.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure at all that worldbuilding is just about fictional stuff. I mean, if I want to use a realistic world on my works, why I can't ask for real-life examples? $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 10 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira That's a fair point, but once you are honestly real-life and have no fictional context what-so-ever, you're often blatantly in scope with other Stack Exchanges. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Aug 10 '16 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ Not really. A question about how to create realistic medieval festivals is completly on-topic, for example - while also being non-fictional. Just because something can be solved by real-life examples doesn't mean it is off-topic! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 10 '16 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira But examples of realistic festivals could be under the History stack exchange. If you want to create a different festival from what historically happened, now you're back to fictional. There are some topics that (when entirely non-fictional) won't fall under another SE site, but a lot of them will. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Aug 10 '16 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ It's a matter of angle-of-attack. If I go ask my festival question on History.SE, I'll get answers from historians. However, I don't want answers from that viewpoint - I need a different kind of expert, one that knows how to translate facts and rules into something interesting to the reader. A historian won't be able to give me a answer that takes into consideration the suspension of disbelief (something extremely important for writers). A physicist won't be able to give me a entertaining way to present a Alcubierre Drive in a magic-ish setting. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 10 '16 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira Right, so if you're altering what was to introduce what's not (for purposes of suspension of disbelief or "it's not perfectly realistic, but it's more interesting!") then you're back to fiction. (I have the feeling the mods are going to rain fire upon our heads for this conversation in the comments. If you want a continued response feel free to nab me in chat!) $\endgroup$ – Ranger Aug 10 '16 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira That depends on the physicist. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 11 '16 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ Worldbuilding depends on an interplay between the possibilities of fiction and what happens in reality. For example, information about real medieval festivals can enable a WBer to devise a similar kind of festival in a high fantasy setting, but be able to adapt them to his world. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 11 '16 at 12:48

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