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In the last few days I've seen several answers (from different users, on wildly different topics) that all basically say

It's fiction - do whatever you like

Now this is an answer to the question. It's an answer to any question, except those tagged , asked under the worldbuilding banner. As such it's not a useful answer, however legitimate it may be, from where I'm sitting.

Is there a place for such answers that I'm missing? Also, how does one approach saying "thanks, but no" if they feel such an answer is misplaced and/or useless?

Not that it effects the overall answer to the issue, at all, but this question was prompted by this "fiction whatever" approach being used in regard to questions that had either a Yes/No or an A., B., or C. structure.

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    $\begingroup$ The Workplace bars "quit your job" answers for similar reasons. We should aim for answers that preserve as much of the starting state as possible -- that the person is employed at that company over on Workplace, that the world works as described in the question here. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 13 '17 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ Sci-Fi/Fantasy equivalent is "speed of plot" answers. Hate them $\endgroup$ – Andrey Sep 19 '17 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ It is sometimes the fault if the asker to not explain the setting. $\endgroup$ – Andrey Sep 19 '17 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrey Just because you do not like an answer does not mean the answer is wrong. If you ask "What is the colour of God's underpants?" and someone answers "We have no evidence of there being a god, and even less evidence that this probably non-existing god wears underpants, and so we do most certainly have no information what colour those doubtable underpants on this doubtable god are", you do not get to say "Well I do not like that answer so I will say that answer is bad". $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 26 '17 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio See my comment to Andrey above. We cannot preserve the state of a question like that, not without having to simply conjure up something up out of our own imagination. That is not our job when answering a question. If an answer requires nothing other than authoring an element, with no relevant restraints or limitation, the onus is on the author to do it themselves, not for us to do it for them. As I have said in another post on WB Meta: we are not here to do the author's job for them. So when they are asking for something that is just that, that is the answer they should get. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 26 '17 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelK saying that there is no god is a good comment, and a lousy answer. As a comment it may help me refine the question to explain what I mean by god, so perhaps a christian scholar would then know i mean the christian god. As an answer it has not helped me in any way. Also I would like to point out that according to the rules of SO i may consider an answer bad for any reason. What I am trying to say is that answers like that 99% of the time come down to the ignorance of the answerer. It would be a good answer to quote descriptions of god, and point how how underpants are not consistent $\endgroup$ – Andrey Sep 26 '17 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ "What I am trying to say is that answers like that 99% of the time come down to the ignorance of the answerer". I call that a cop out argument. "Well... almost everyone that writes that are just dumb/uninformed anyway". No, you will have to argue better than that. Idea generation is frowned upon since it falls both under Too Broad and Opinion-Based. And when you end up in a situation where any and all answers may be valid because of lack of things to base them on — which is usually where we are when we end up with "You the author, do your job" answers, then we have clear TB/OB's. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 26 '17 at 13:32
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We've had similar problems before with comments saying just use magic

This is basically a duplicate of a problem that has already been discussed on this site:

Are comments saying “just use magic” problematic?

In the linked question the community talked about comments saying just use magic. In this question we should discuss answers saying it's fiction and therefore you can do whatever you want. Comments are only for clarification and can be deleted any time for any reason, which makes them less important than the answers for which this site was built and that can and should be curated by the community. That's why I feel it's important to have this discussion again in this slightly different context.

Everybody knows that they can write whatever they want - that's not helpful

The reason WorldBuilding exists is to ask questions where a writer of any kind thinks what he is doing might break the suspension of disbelief of his audience. Every author is aware that he can do whatever he wants. Mentioning this obvious fact is not even slightly helpful.

Flag it and delete it - write whatever you want is "not an answer"

Furthermore we are not a discussion forum. An answer is supposed to answer the question. It's okay to make an Addendum at the end of your post and mention your concern that the OP is going a bit overboard. But in itself do whatever you want is probably never going to answer a valid question. If you truly feel that this is the right answer to the question you should probably flag the question as "primarily opinion-based".

If the question is a valid question and an answer only says that the author can do whatever the wants without being an useful answer towards the question asked it should be flagged as "not an answer" and consequently deleted.

Start from the point the author set and answer his question

To cite and paraphrase Monica in the question I linked above:

Yes, sometimes you do need to quit your job or handwave your magic, but that's for the asker to decide. We should accept the parameters of the question and go from there.

Yes, sometimes you do need to ignore the science and write something that is not correct, but interesting for the reader, but that's for the asker to decide. We should accept that the asker feels it's important to get something right or believable and go from there.


Addendum

Sometimes it's okay to remind people that most other people won't take everything in their story apart as long as there are no really big problems. But that is worth a comment at most and only in rare cases. Most of the time I would probably flag them as "no longer needed" if the author didn't make some helpful hints about the specific topic and directed at the question of the querent.

And the whole problem is also similar to When is “that's not possible” an appropriate answer?. Again, on its own that is not an acceptable answer and not an acceptable comment. The writer has to explain why that's not possible, you have to use magic and write whatever you want are the correct answer in each context, tailored towards the problems the OP is facing.

If the writer is explaining why write whatever you want or similar phrases are correct their answer may be valid if they devote more than just a sentence to explaining the why and tailoring their answer to the specific needs of the querent.

Otherwise: downvote, flag, comment why (for example by linking to this answer) and move on.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you and also thank you once again for making my question more cogent and readable. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 13 '17 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash No problem. That's what I do most of the time on this site :D $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Sep 13 '17 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ This makes me much happier as a voter. Would you recommend consistently voting to delete with these one-liners, or downvote and comment? $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 15 '17 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH When you hover over the downvote button you can see the help text "This answer is not useful". I would downvote such an answer. When thinking about the flags I think that write whatever you want as a one-liner is never an answer. So I would flag it as "not an answer". I try to write a comment whenever I flag stuff. Or at least when I encounter something in the low-quality review queue I try to give some reasons for why I am voting to delete. So I would comment and try to explain or at least link this answer. I think downvote, flag, comment is perfect, but do whatever you feel is right. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Sep 16 '17 at 9:47
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The expectation (we've discussed this quite a few times, which I expect to keep happening) is that people writing answers will take the reality set by the OP and work from there unless it is internally inconsistent. This is sort of tangential but I feel it is similar so figured I'd bring it up.

Beyond that Nex is correct, downvote and/or VTC/Flag because they add no value to the site.

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If it's a cop out answer, it's a low quality answer that fails to actually provide utility.

That's what the downvote button is for.

Don't feel bad downvoting low quality answers.

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I regularly answer like that, but I always give a reason why. Here is why I think this is ok. Sorry for the formating on the first point, I hope you get over it.

  1. People often overestimate what science can do because it is displayed incorrectly in the media and movies. Sometimes people expect that they can get any answer they like if they just define enough parameters. That migth be particularly typical here since a lot of programmers are on SE that assume that physics also work like programming. This isn't restricted to hard science, in fact this is especially true for questions about for example social or economical implications.
    Sometimes someone has to tell the OP: Well, we do not know. This one is up for your imagination. **Here is why : ... **. I believe that in those cases any other answer is complete bullsh*tting (for the non-Americans, the * is an i). I don't think it is better to make up stuff for the OP than telling the OP why he has to make that one up himself, especially since the OP could understand it as "that person knows a lot about that topic, so his scenario must be correct".

    Ideally those questions would be moderated and closed, but from my experience this either doesn't happen or doesn't help anyone, especially if no explanation is given. Many popular (network) questions are like that where everyone can make up some bs to add to it. Could this be done via comment? Not always. The character restriction is very limited (people with high reputation have asked be before to put long comments as answers), I also believe that an answer doesn't always have to be the answer someone might expect but instead offer a different angle on the situation, offering the means to help the OP resolving a problem himself or recognizing that his problem isn't one actually because any rational approach would do the trick. That last one is often the case with those question.

  2. Sometimes I answer, but I do not invent an entire world for him and instead prefer to stay focused on the question. I point out certain parameters that are left to the imagination and do not need to be defined in this framework I'm offering. For example if someone asks about lifeforms in space, intelligence optional, I might offer a certain lifeform that could survive there, but I might tell the OP that if they are intelligent or not does not matter and is up to him.

  3. Sometimes I see (for example) 2 ways this could go. Let's say the question is about trains in space and I'm saying a space rail should be either one, iron or copper, but that is up to him. That's a boring example, but I hope you get it.

  4. I've commented before and people have taken it the wrong way as if it was an answer. Sometimes I tell people in comments that what they are asking is left completely to their imagination, implying (or explicitly telling them later in the same comment) this isn't a good question currently and will get closed. I do not know if this OP here might have confused a comment for an answer.

If those 4 are not reason enough to ever say that the OP has to think for himself, well, let me know.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you see a difference between an answer that explains why "it's fiction..." and a one-line answer that only says "it's fiction..."? I've provided a number of "it won't work and here's why" answers that the OPs appreciated because I exposed issues they'd never thought about before. Where a one-line "it's fiction..." gives no insight to the OP at all. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 15 '17 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH It is not specified that this is what the OP is asking about. Nowhere did he say one liners. He instead states "basically say" which implies a longer / at least different answer. He also questiones the usefulness of such answers and I disagree with him here - it can be useful if someone says why. I'm here to give perspective, especially since some of the answers in this thread have been quite extreme $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 16 '17 at 11:44
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Sometimes that is the correct answer

Summary: To paraphrase Hitchens's Razor...

That which is asked on the basis of hand-waving, can be answered and/or dismissed with hand-waving.

Question: Is there value to be had in an answer that says "You are overthinking it... use your authority as an author and make something up"?

Answer: yes, there may be that.

Think for instance Chekhov's Gun. If we — as personas answering a post — can make an educated/experienced guess that the Original Poster is adding unnecessary fluff, then we should tell them that. We are doing them a huge disservice by trying to come up with hard science answers if that risks hurting their work.


In other instances, the Original Poster may be asking questions to which there are no answers. What other answer can we then give than "Make something up, you are the author!"? They cannot have it both ways, that first they just have-wave their way past some hard unknowns, and then demand that we come up with not just knowns but hard science knowns to them.

That is as if they would have said "In my fictional world, Flerbotrons exist! Now give me some hard science on Flerbotrons and how I can use them for practical purposes!".

No. Just... no. My standard answer to such a preposterous question is — and will always be — "As suppositories".

Hand-waved questions will get hand-waved answers. If you want to call that a "cop out answer" then I call the question a "cop out question".

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree, if you think it's a Flerbotrons question, it should be flagged, not answered $\endgroup$ – Andrey Sep 25 '17 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey On what basis should such a question be flagged? Often such questions fall into the (somewhat subjective) category of questions wrongly asked while still being on topic, and clear in scope. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Sep 26 '17 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ And if it was said as "You are overthinking it" that would be fine because to me that's a completely different sentiment to "do whatever". "You're overthinking" encourages the OP to start again and look at the issue fresh, "do what you like" lacks that useful feedback. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 26 '17 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings too broad. If Flerbotrons are insufficiently defined then they are making us define it, it's to broad. If they are defined enough to do do physics on it, then you can do hard science. In fact that's pretty much the whole theoretical branch of physics. Hard science on made up stuff $\endgroup$ – Andrey Sep 26 '17 at 14:43
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"It's fiction - do whatever you like" could also be a sign of a leading or overly complex question.

I've seen a number of questions that try to ask a narrow question, hinting at a huge amount of background and very mature world, but not really giving many details about the world. What details you do get seem to strongly push a certain course of action.

This makes it hard to give a good answer since there are so many potential contributing factors that can't be taken into account.

While the question itself is ok, it can be frustrating to try to answer since there is more than one way it could go, and you feel like the person asking it is just hoping that answers will agree with what they already want to do.

In these cases "do whatever you like" is a way of saying "hey, it's your story, stop being lazy and just write the thing yourself already."

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    $\begingroup$ On the other hand, if the missing material would be materially relevant to answering the question, there's no harm in commenting and asking for clarification, and possibly even voting to close in the interim. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 14 '17 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling So here is a good example. Fleshing this question out would take a small book of extra details, and so it would be pretty easy to answer "How long do you want it to take? Do whatever you like." But the question itself doesn't deserve a down vote or a close vote. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Sep 14 '17 at 17:38

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