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I have encountered countless questions about how one would control the elements or related concepts. Here are some examples: here here here I found this one particularly sad . I think you get the point. Those questions also end up being deleted frequently.

All of these questions have something in common: They are incredibly vague and mostly end up getting closed.

I often comment below those questions, asking for details, but I do not remember ever helping anyone with this. It is not my job to make people ask great questions and if the OP just decides to not show up again and clean up his mess, well, that is his decision. However, the frequency of these threads makes the entire thing frustrating.

Since those questions are so super common, I would like to know how to deal with them.

Mr sphennings included a couple of points in his answer with which I agree:

The problem with talking about "Manipulating Elements" is that it encodes a lot of meaning that isn't obvious.

Most obvious is the lack of clarity about how many elements are being talked about. There's the "classical" 4 elements of fire, water, wind, and earth. Some systems have a five element system adding either metal, or void. Some radical people even believe in a system with 118+ elements.

What it means to manipulate can also have many different meanings. Is it the ability to move? To change form? Can you summon your element?

My intentions: Those questions show up often. Ideally, I want to link this thread via a comment in the future instead of writing the same again and again.

So here are a couple of questions/points for debate:

  1. If there is a universally or WB wide understood definition of controlling elements, what is it?

    • The answer is "There is none"
  2. What procedure is recommended if I want to comment and ask for details? Has anyone ever experienced positive feedback with something below such a question?

    • I have after linking this thread, please feel free to share other success stories.
  3. How should you ask a question about elemental magic on WB?

    • Mr sphennings suggested a rather hard science approach and gave the following example: "In my world earth benders can magically exert a maximum of 1KN of force on rocks and stone. How many would be needed to construct Stonehenge?"

    • Mr Vylix has demonstrated that this can be done beautifully after some edits, see here

(updated, don't be confused by answers addressing points that I deleted because they were stupid)

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    $\begingroup$ Be assured this isn't a stupid/irrelevant question and belongs here on meta. There are classes of questions that frequently appear on WB SE and are just as frequently closed. This suggests there should be a way of responding to the querents that helps them improve their questions or give them answers without the palaver of closing them as the default response. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 8 '17 at 2:32
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The problem with talking about "Manipulating Elements" is that it encodes a lot of meaning that isn't obvious.

Most obvious is the lack of clarity about how many elements are being talked about. There's the "classical" 4 elements of fire, water, wind, and earth. Some systems have a five element system adding either metal, or void. Some radical people even believe in a system with 118+ elements.

What it means to manipulate can also have many different meanings. Is it the ability to move? To change form? Can you summon your element?

To answer your many questions:

  1. Since there isn't a universal definition we shouldn't standardize a definition.
  2. If the question is ambiguous the ambiguities need to be resolved or the question should be put on hold as unclear what you're asking. Asking for clarification in the comments is the only way to do this unless the person asking the question is a mind reader.
  3. If you want to not discourage people suggest solutions don't just list problems. The stack exchange format is different and much stricter than many other sites. Some people aren't aware of this when they start asking questions or posting answers.
  4. There is nothing wrong asking questions about elemental manipulation. Elemental manipulation is just another flavor of magic. Like with magic you need to describe your system in enough detail to be able to ask a meaningful question.
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  • $\begingroup$ I thank you for a long answer. I might steal parts later because you specified the problem better than i did. Do you have an example for point 4, anything where such magic was well defined? Good enough for referencing maybe? It would be great if it was freely available on the net or even from this se. The shorter the better I assume since questions are not supposed to be books. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 7 '17 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't always need to be well defined "In my world earth benders can magically exert a maximum of 1KN of force on rocks and stone. How many would be needed to construct Stonehenge?" That's all the information relevant to the question. We don't need to know that they need to be doing tai chi for their magic to work. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Aug 7 '17 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ That would be a great way to ask a question, but I would argue that if the guy asking the question could specify this, he would've done that initially. I do not believe that building worlds should be reserved to those with a scientific education - on the contrary, the financially most succesful worlds have been build by people that think a bit softer. I'm looking for approaches to help them and not those that already ask great questions. As I implied, such approaches seem to scare people away $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 7 '17 at 17:22
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  1. No, there is no "standard". The OP should define how the magic and elements work, in some ways. One of the ways is referencing a world with similar working like my question.

    There I referenced Avatar: Legend of Aang for my bending law. You can also reference other questions. Of course, explaining the specific working will help clear doubts, especially for those who have not yet read or seen the reference.

  2. Ask in comments for anything you feel needs clarification.

    There might be a loophole that the OP forgets that makes an answer very, very simple.

    How to shake hands with a lightning elemental?

    Comment: "What technology level it is? Wearing rubber boots and gloves will make this easy"

    There might be a missing information that can be used to make your answer.

    If there is any question that arise from the post, that is not contained within the post, ask in comments.

  3. Be nice. Comment in a good faith that the OP just don't know something won't work, or how things work. Explain. And don't be afraid to ask too many questions. It is better to ask many clarifying questions than to see the question closed.

  4. Yes, of course! Just define your system, add missing information that can be used as a foundation for answers. And remember to listen for feedback, especially hints for "too broad", "too opinion-based", and other close reasons.

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