The question How to figure out someone is plagiarizing the future? is not about building something, shaking out the rules, or even exploring the consequences. It’s about plot and there is no way around it.

Yet this question seems to be well received by the community.

So, is it off topic? If not, can we explain why, within the exising rules?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ It's definitely story based and it's encouraging the answers to tell a story, which sucks people in and they forget the rules. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix is right. See for example this answer. It starts with "Here is a story snippet for this case." $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ Another example, I believe: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/81027/809 $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot, I'd say that's a reality check on a method of suicide phrased as a story $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix and proposal to allow reality checks on plots was heavily downvoted about a month ago. See here: worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4931/809 $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Should we finally allow reality checks of other plot elements? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Mołot, I read that question simply as "is it possible to commit suicide this way" which would make it valid for a reality check. The question did explicitly exclude the plot elements. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix valid for tag, yes. But still not really building worlds. And that's what this downvoted proposal was about... $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The question in question has been put on hold, less than an hour after this question was posted. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 9:47

4 Answers 4


If we will allow plot-based questions, this site will become "ask anything" - because anything can be made into a plot with ease. That's why I say no, we really shouldn't.

The only plot-based questions that are on-topic are ones where plot is world-changing one. Superhero able to control whole population of a planet? Borderline on topic. Plot to spread disease that'll kill or change most of the population? On topic again. But question you linked has no signs of the events to be wold-changing.

of course, even world-changing plot-based questions should, if possible, be rephrased to ask the same thing in a less plot-based way and still ask about the same thing. For example "Mad scientist released deadly virus, how will we defend against it?" should be changed to "What are feasible ways for humanity to defend against deadly virus outbreak?" or "What properties should a virus have to still be pandemic, even with modern precautions and procedures?". My preferred course of action would be to put on hold until edited but I can see why it isn't so bad to leave them open.

  • $\begingroup$ Regardless of scale plot-based questions should be closed. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings with world-changing scale it is so easy to rephrase that I wouldn't even bother. I dislike them if they are phrased in a story based way, all right, but I think editing them is a way, if anything. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Many questions could be asked on this site, if they are framed correctly. That is a very large if. It would be better to re-open, if they go through the effort edit their question. Questions that aren't closed define what is acceptable on this site and inform new users about what questions are ok to ask. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ The early discussions when WB was being established distinguished between pure plot-based questions and questions where plot was entangled with worldbuilding elements. Pure plot questions were off-topic. Plot-related worldbuilding was on-topic. This doesn't mean the questions might not have other problems.However, WBers do need to be careful distinguishing whether any questions that seem plot-based do have authentic worldbuilding elements. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 12:12

Unlike some other possible examples, this question is very specifically about a plot point.

I am looking for a way to see through the scheme enough to at least make contact with mr. X

While people get carried away trying to solve these plot related problems, this is undoubtedly not world building and should be closed as plot based.


I disagree that this is story-based. To me, story-based is when different characters can respond differently. So if you change one character to be an evil villain or a saintly hero, you get different results.

This isn't dependent on how the characters react to this knowledge. The question is what clues such a scheme would leave. That is a characteristic of the world and thus on-topic here.

Contrast with Is Bob guaranteed to be robbed? There, the question is how the story could be written such that Bob doesn't lose his boat to theft at the first port. The answer is going to depend not just on what Bob does, but how the other characters react.

  • Bob could demonstrate his awesome weapons and scare away potential thieves.
  • Bob could cleverly fend off assailants by pitting them against each other.
  • Bob could recruit his own thugs...err, soldiers...to protect the boat.
  • Bob could appeal to the local legal authorities to protect him.
  • Bob could perform miracles and appeal to religious authorities for protection.

All of those are potential solutions, but they are dependent on which story the author wants to tell. Is Bob the clever type? Can he communicate via pantomime well enough to pit potential assailants against each other? Perhaps he is a champion charades player.

Or perhaps Bob is a champion bartender. He uses his solar-powered drinks blender to chop ice, scaring the locals. Then he serves daiquiris. Everyone loves him.

If that weren't story-based, we could close it as Too Broad.


I will play the Devil's Advocate on this question. "The question How to figure out someone is plagiarizing the future? is not about building something, shaking out the rules, or even exploring the consequences. It’s about plot and there is no way around it." As a good Devil's Advocate I shall be taking the contrary case and defend it against the charge of being plot-based.

I will observe that plot is something much more complicated and subtle then seems to be its usage on this site. TL:DR the question is not about plot. Any answer explaining plot would be longer than is reasonable for an answer here. So I leave it with the observation this question isn't plot.

What it is about is exploring the consequences. Specifically, about the consequences of someone stealing intellectual property from the future. More specifically, about the consequences of that theft that lead to its discovery.

Now, the question itself, isn't exactly well framed and doesn't seem to have been thought through as cogently as it might have been. Sorry, to the OP, if you see this, but thems my opinion. By that, I mean my professional opinion both as a published author and as a former paralegal adviser; note that this is just what I think and my opinion is as good as anyone else's. The clunkiness doesn't make it easy reading. The fog of imprecise words and phrases can lead anyone to think this is all about plot. It is a worldbuilding element which will, presumably, go towards shaping the plot of the OP's story (if that is what the OP is doing), but it still is a worldbuilding element.

Possibly, this question could have been better framed along the following lines. I am sure others will be able to construct better versions of their own. If someone was stealing information, knowledge, science and technology from the future, what consequences of this scheme will lead to its discovery?


I quote the following statement by Monica Cellio:

The scope for Writers includes the following relevant explanation:

Asking to brainstorm ideas tailor-made for your particular story is 
off-topic; that’s too specific to your own work. But identifying a
general scenario which naturally presents plotting difficulties is

Those same reasons apply here.

These words appear in Storytelling and plot building

The question under discussion here is an example of a scenario with plotting difficulties and by exploring its consequences makes it on-topic.


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