# Opinion on questions that involve 'idea generation' or lack a 'right answer'

Perhaps such a post already exists but I couldn't find it.

Basically I wanted to ask what exactly are the problems associated with adding 'idea generation' related questions to the scope of this site. I do feel a significant portion of the community does like such questions (I might be wrong).

One problem I guess is that it goes a bit against Stackexchange's policy for objective questions and answers. But there are other borderline cases, such as Puzzling SE allowing users to create their own problems and post them. Most science and math SE sites do not accept this and allow only problems which the asker himself/herself is stuck on. So I guess it is possible (though not necessarily optimal) within the SE framework to do so.

If that is not possible, perhaps SE could open a new site called 'Worldbuilding Debates' or 'Worldbuilding Discussions' or something like that. It could be a slight mix of the rigorous Q&A format and the disorganised chat format. I guess some other sites on SE could benefit from such additions.

Have these options been considered?

• One problem is the one you mentioned: there are no objective answers. Of course at WorldBuilding not everything is completely objective, but there has to be some form of objective goal so that you can say which answers are good and which answers are not so good. We like to discuss more open ended topics, but that is mostly in the chat. If you like come to the chat. There are far less rules ;) Mar 18 '17 at 10:30
• These posts might help you get some insight into the topic: Should we rename Idea generation? and What's wrong with the "idea generation" questions? Mar 18 '17 at 10:32
• Another thing: idea generation often inclused near endless possibilities. You could write books and the next best person could still list a few additions. It would result in far too long answers, which is not what the Stackexchange Q&A format is supposed to encourage. Mar 18 '17 at 10:34
• If you just want a wall to lobby ideas against, then you can always try your luck in the chat; there are often people logged in and they might be willing to help you generate ideas. Mar 18 '17 at 20:21
• I'm inclined to close this as a duplicate of worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/522/… - is there anything here that isn't covered by that? Mar 30 '17 at 15:25
• @TimB Yes you can close it. One thing though, your answer on that question does not directly answer "what's wrong with idea generation questions" and rather deals with how to identify and deal with them. But yes, the other answer there is accurate. I'll make another post if I can think of a proper to implement any of the ideas I mentioned in this post. Mar 30 '17 at 15:53
• Note that the "Idea Generation" close reason that was discussed in Tim's question was deactivated last year (it's no longer a close reason). This sort of implies that it's ok to ask an idea-building question as long as it doesn't head into "too broad" territory.
– user10945
Mar 31 '17 at 6:55
• @Pete It was de-activated because we decided it was a subset of too broad and wasn't adding value rather than because it wasn't valid. Mar 31 '17 at 8:32

A partial support for - at least some aspects of - WB being a debate is the number of answers per question we get. I think there should probably be an easier way to run a query over multiple sites but I couldn't see it, I just did a few to compare and got:

      av # answers per question
wb        4.7
physics   1.5
SO        1.6
Unix      1.5
Puzzle    2.7
Photo     2.5
Scifi     2


I tried to get a variety of different sites - photography being perhaps a little opinion based, stack overflow a little personal taste and physics having more definite answers.

I was surprised to see quite so large a difference as that...I may have just picked a few distinctly different ones though so take this with a pinch of salt.

More answers per question does seem to hint at the answerers believing there is more to add...and so perhaps more opinion based.

In the comments HDE226868 pointed out:

According to the site comparisons, we're actually averaging a bit under 5 answers per question. Physics has about 1.5, as does SO and Unix & Linux. Puzzling has just over 2.5, as does Photography. SciFi is at roughly 2. So somehow your answer data is multiplied by two. DaaahWhoosh says the code's counting answers twice per post ID.

• According to the site comparisons, we're actually averaging a bit under 5 answers per question. Physics has about 1.5, as does SO and Unix & Linux. Puzzling has just over 2.5, as does Photography. SciFi is at roughly 2. So somehow your answer data is multiplied by two. DaaahWhoosh says the code's counting answers twice per post ID.
– HDE 226868 Mod
Mar 31 '17 at 13:35
• @HDE226868 Thanks for that (I'm still a little bit unsure with the SEDE stuff). I don't think I've got permissions to see the site comparisons but I'll take your word for it and update the answer. Cheers. Mar 31 '17 at 14:17
• @HDE226868 I spotted where I was going wrong in the query, had used the postID as what I was summing over so answers having an ID of 2 and questions of 1 meant I was counting twice as many answers. Silly mistake, thanks for pointing it out. Mar 31 '17 at 14:30

Let me posit four classes which can be used to classify any questions that arise when creating a world. (Of course, by ‘world’ I mean that which some might call “universe” of a story or an open setting.)

• someone has a question which pertains to some minor aspect of their created world.
The aspect is believed to be peripheral, and probably would never make a noticable difference in any developing stories being created within that world. However, it could be good to know for later developments; it is always pleasant to explore anyways.
Also, maybe the aspect is no so peripheral as the asker initially believed. It would be better if they had an answer now rather than wait for someone to point out a fault in their world later — simply because they didn't know the implications of some important premise.
• there is an important, but not core, aspect of some author's world that is beyond their acumen, knowledge, or intellectual skill to develop.
This happens to all of us. We come up with a good premise for a story or a world, we go along, but then — wham! — we see that we need to know the climatic characteristics of some planet.
Sure, we could and should do all we can to learn the details of hydrodynamics, meteorodynamics, and lithodynamics if we are creating a typical spheroid planet, but it is helpful to have an expert guide us and explain things which are a tad too conjectural for most encyclopedia.
Something cheaper than hiring a professor or postgrad is also useful for many of us — though, of course, if the aspect is important enough, you do want to involve some more stringent examination at some point prior to finalized publishing.
• someone learns of a fascinating idea — grafting of extra sensory instruments, a creature which uses some bodily organ in a novel way, a bizarre inversion of some familiar concept, or so, — and thinks that it would make a good premise for a story; however, they don't know enough about the related mechanics so as to begin making a world, let alone a story in that world.
So, they need some help.
Now, these such requests are a tad dishonest, methinks. Why are you writing the story, anyway? Is it because you are a subtle and esquisite wordcrafter, but a paltry worldbuilder? Or, do you simply not have the science or wherewithal whereby to develop the germ of premise?
How do you know that it will be a promising premise?
It would be much better to either
• attach someone, whether to the published credits or merely by contract, who can then receive some compensation for their contribution. If their help is that fundamental to the story, then they deserve some acclaim at least.
• add to your backburner those ideas that look promising but are beyond your contemporary level of expertise.
• pull a Roddenberry: it's a Warp Drive, Food Replicator, a Transporter, and a Universal Translator all–in–one! It's a Repli-trans-warp-aporter!
• a person wants to begin writing a fantastic story or designing the fantastic setting for an MMO world, but they've got no premise which they think is appealing enough.
“Let me gather a collection of generic concepts which I like, and stew them together, and then I'll see if someone else can digest them and return to me something which is workable.”
There can be many variations on that rather grotesque satire, and some may seem less dishonest than others, but let us take them as alike enough so as to warrant the same handling.

Most would agree that the bottom class is unacceptable here.
As for the third class, I would say that it is also unacceptable. Some might disagree with me — indeed, many of what I believed were such questions have not been marked as off–topic or as non-worldbuilding.
The first and second ones are the only ones which I believe belong here — and not so as to reduce the bloatation of the question population, but because they are the most honest.

What if the question itself is the only extant germ for a worldbuilding not yet begun? Or, what if the asker has no immediate intentions to do any such building of world in their planned future?
Well, I don't believe that should be encouraged here — but, if it occurs, I don't think people should be too swift to downcast those questions which seem to do so; err on the side of benefit to all as often as is possible.
I do think that such questions would be better served by directing them elsewhere. If the other Stack Exchange sites aren't receptive to hypothetical postulations or queries, then that doesn't necessarily mean that they should go here.
I believe this because of one major reason: if the questions here don't support answers which are conducive to worldbuilding, then the entire environ of this site is diminished accordingly. People could conceivably begin answering the so–called What–If questions as if they were that, restricting the scope of their answers. New arrivals would see this, and adopt it.
That's my concern in that regard.
Now you know, all those who wondered why I claimed certain nebulous questions weren't qualified for worldbuilding. I now hold back my vociferousity, depending on the quality of the answers I see or plan to give. I do think it is a valid danger, though.

## In summary

This is not a ‘think tank’. It should not to be used so as to do your worldbuilding for you — i.e. contribution. The problem is not that such a thing is done, but that such a thing is done under pretenses of consultation The purpose of the answers here should be twofold:

• a documentation of the worldbuilding for the posterity of later similar efforts
• a medium through which to request informative consultation for the purpose of worldbuilding

That is the criterion which should be used to assess questions as solicitations for “idea generation”.

• @ghosts_in_the_code I didn't mean that linear storytelling should be the only acceptable reason for worldbuilding here; please show me exactly where I gave that impression. I will edit the opinion so as to be clearer with my stance on the one–off or our–world types of questions. Mar 31 '17 at 11:01

Idea generation is OK, if narrow enough.

For example, not even an hour about there was a question What are all the changes human will get after the next Ice Age. This is, of course, too broad. This kind of idea generation should be closed as such.

On the other hand, questions like How can I safely brighten my secondary star? are perfectly OK to me. It involves idea generation, and it might be a bit unclear how the answers will be rated, but there is a really precise goal and solid set of limits.

Long story short "We will not build your world for you" should apply. Specific, well defined parts, yes. But not a broad and unspecified part.