I recently asked How can I use a potential invasion to further my political power?, which, granted, isn't a fantastic question, even after my edits.

Right after I asked it, I got a -1, and comments that it was unclear, so I edited, cut down unnecessary information, and added an explicit question. Now the question has +10 and multiple voted answers. Now I know that just because a question has votes/answers doesn't make it good 1 2

But what it does do is make me confused.

Normally when I get push-back on my questions, I try to iterate. Read the "How to ask" guide for the site, read other questions, and do more research. But with this question I honestly don't know what I could do better. Besides of course "Speak better words"/"communicate better", which while true, aren't exactly helpful pieces of feedback.

I've read this meta post, and this one, but the answers to both of them are pretty specific to the questions which are asked.

While I understand the common SE criticism "this question doesn't have a single, absolutely correct answer"/"there are too many possible good answers". I also don't really understand how that applies on this site specifically. Considering my question was actually based directly off of highly voted similarly tagged questions such as:

Which are still open, I'm having trouble figuring out what exactly is considered "on topic" and "answerable" on this site.

Specifically addressing my question and the "too broad" hold. To me, and obviously I'm biased, there is one, clear, question here. "Given X situation, what action, or tightly coupled series of actions can I take to effect Y change in a fairly short amount of time.". While there are many possible answers, I don't think the number of interpretations of the question are so broad as to make it unanswerable


2 Answers 2


Thanks for bringing this to Meta, Devon.

First of all, and this is important, this site hasn't existed for a super long time. The rules of even a year ago are not the rules of today. Consequently, it's tempting to point to past questions and use them as rationalization for today's question. Sadly, that's not very efficient here.

But that's why it's important to bring questions to Meta. The site does have a difficult time balancing creative fiction with reality science, but it has been slowly narrowing its focus.

"Specific" is a word you really want to know

Perhaps the single greatest challenge on this site is that the Stack Exchange model is one-specific-question-one-specific-best-answer. In most cases that's easy to see. I'm writing software using XYZ language, here's my example, here's my expected output, it's not working, what am I doing wrong? Answer: you're missing a semicolon over there. Very specific in, very specific out. Answer quality is very easy to judge (semicolon? you need a colon! Here's the link to the spec!)

Creativity, however, rebels against the specific (especially if you think you'll be giving up story details that someone else could steal). However, without specific details, you'll get answers that are all over the map, and while that sounds like a plus for you, one of the basic purposes of Stack Exchange is to create a library of useful answers for people in the future — and a question that cannot lead to a specic answer is the very opposite of what they're tying to achieve.

What we want to help you with

We want to help you develop a consistent and creative world. Such a world is reusable. In other words, it could be used to write many stories. We'll help you design a specific weapon or explain the color of your atmosphere. We'll focus on a village or help you with a galactic empire of bazillions. What's important is that no aspect of the world is intrinsic to a story. Thus, we love questions about the nature of a planet (ecology, biology, physics, chemistry, and we adore anything having to do with orbits). Once this world is created, you, the author, are free to populate it with circumstances: the basis of stories.

What we don't want to help you with

We don't want to help you tell your story. In other words, we're happy to help you develop a government, we're less happy figuring out how that government would react to an event, and we want nothing to do with "what would my government do next?" Change "government" to "character" and we generally don't want anything to do with it at all because, generally, no one character is independent of a story from a worldbuilding point of view. (An example of an exception to this would be gods.)

We will also answer questions about how to use the rules of your world

The gray area with this is how unspecified people or groups would solve a problem having to do with the rules of the world. For example, given that we have tech level X and government Y trying to affect people in way C, what can C do to overcome their dilemma?

You probably noticed that the formula I just described feels a lot like your question — except that your question wasn't about unspecified people, it was about specific people — characters... aka, storybuilding. Remember, we want to answer questions that are independent of the story. How does C react given A or B is (mostly) independent of the story because anyone could be C. But the moment C is a specific character that isn't a rule of the world by him/her self (e.g., a god), we're telling a story.

We don't answer questions like, "what should I do next with my story?"

And what I just said is the problem. Remember, we're not here to help you write your story. We're here to help you build a consistent world wherein your story can take place. Creating "test environments" (how would C solve the problem given A and B) helps to refine your world... and may also help you slip some storybuilding past us on the down-low. An example would be, how would the average citizen protect themselves against Roman-era government aggression in public spaces? But the moment you ask, what should Brutus do to keep Ceaser from shanking him in the Senate? You're out of bounds.

Aaaaaannnnd... we're not perfect

Finally, to make matters worse, whether or not a naturally off-topic question gets through our patrols depends completely on who sees it, how that individual is perceived by our community, and what they decide to do about it, if anything. We're not perfect, we're all volunteers, and despite regular questions like this that help refine our understanding of what Worldbuilding.SE should be, sometimes the mix doesn't work.

That's the problem with participating on what is arguably the most creative and flexible Stack Exchange site on the planet. Sometimes, the rules are little more than whisps of clouds that look suspiciously like a line from time to time: well defined at the moment, and blown into the aether the next. It's actually a fun ride, but it's not always for the weak of heart.

Welcome aboard! Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for that nice exhaustive answer. I know this place is new, but it's one of my favorites, due in part to the questions I linked, whose answers got me looking at this site. That said, the way I interpret this is that my question is by nature unfixable, which is fine. Though, it should be closed as "off-topic" not "too broad" $\endgroup$
    – Devon M
    Apr 28, 2018 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ In retrospect, and with your breakdown it becomes clear this question would probably have been better suited to writers.stackexchange. I'm just here more often so this one came to mind. That said, does this site currently have an faq similiar to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7931/… but specific to this site. I feel like the issue I'm having must be a frequent one. Due to the inherently ambiguous focus of the site $\endgroup$
    – Devon M
    Apr 28, 2018 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ "an exception to this would be gods" Actually, no. At least to me, gods would fall under characters, too; especially if they have failings, motivations, or anything else that you might think of that usually defines a character. It's more useful IMO to think of the distinction as one between "how could this individual solve this problem?" (off topic because it is about an individual character) and "how could an individual with these qualities solve this problem?" (more likely on topic because answers are equally applicable to any character with the described qualities within the world). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 28, 2018 at 7:02

You have a little misconception - your question was not temporarily put on hold as "Too Broad" as you state in the body of your question, but as "Unclear what you are asking"

That means the majority of the people who voted to close your question didn't know what to do with your question. Maybe people didn't understand how your country is structured. You state that you want to gain a position of actual power - but what would you have to achieve for this? Kill one person that has the actual power? Kill a council of three or four? A dozen? You state that beheadings don't go well with your image - but how many would that be?

You also state that you see yourcountry is ripe for industrial revolution - that's not really how the industrial revolution worked. It's simply a thing of happening or not because your people want to have a better live. There is no switch you could use to start the industrial revolution. Maybe this was part of the confusion?

Your considerations make it look like you are interested in an external solution to your problem, while the rest of your text read as if you want an internal solution. Which is it? Also, do you have any allies outside of the government?

Are you open to new forms of government?

What does your sister have to do with all of this? Is she supposed to play an important role? Does she want power, too? Do you want to get rid of her without angering the folk?

I have written an answer where I state my personal view on closure reasons:

"Unclear what you are asking" - "I have no idea what this is supposed to say. Either there is a big language barrier, the querent has misunderstood quite a few things about the topic he is asking about, there is no question or there are so many things missing from the description of the world that it feels to me like a random excerpt where too much is missing to make any meaningful attempts at answering the question. I don't know the situation, I don't know the goal - I just don't know how to help the querent yet."

Maybe people felt like they couldn't help you in the current state of the question? I personally wouldn't say so (in fact I have voted to reopen the question), but this is always a bit subjective.

You might also want to read my answer to To what extent should my personal failure to suspend my disbelief justify a downvote? to see some of my thoughts about in-character questions. They are a weird double-edged sword that sometimes works incredibly good and sometimes raises the bar incredibly high. Maybe you were just in bad luck and happened to get the wrong crowd to read your question?

Lastly you already have 3 reopen votes out of the five you need. It might be worth waiting a while to see what the community decides to do with the question. Reopenings can be slower than closures, weekends are always slower than weekdays. Look at this question for example: it took a week for it to be reopened.


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