While we've likely always had "Why would X lead to Y?" questions, it feels like we've had a lot of them lately. Here's a sample (the questions asked so far in October, some have been closed).

I believe the above question type is distinguishable from "How would X lead to Y?" questions — better known as High Concept Questions. Here are those so far this month:

My Concern: "Why would X lead to Y?" questions are almost always too broad. They're similar to "How would X lead to Y?" questions in that they're asking us to develop a substantial portion of the OP's plot for them. My gut tells me (and my emotional reaction when reading most of them) that they're off-topic.

Unless...

And here's the hard part: unless they are ONLY answered from the rules-of-your-world perspective. I.E., "what natural law on your world answers this question?" Therefore, the first question on the list could not be legitimately answered (ignoring the specifics of the question)...

because the god demands it

...as that is only a plot device (storybuilding and subject to either the OT:TSB or the POB VTC rules). But it could be answered...

because the life energy of 100 healthy, mature adults between the ages of 25 and 45 is required to trigger the summoning spell based on the rules of magic and/or theology for your world

...because it identifies how a rule of the world could be used to accomplish the task. or (perhaps better for the OP)...

Your world could require the life energy of 100 healthy, mature adults between the ages of 25 and 45 to trigger the summoning spell/incantation/invocation

...which helps the OP establish the rules of his/her world.

 

Question: Should we...

(a) Add "Why would X lead to Y?" questions to the Catalog of Question Types as off-topic without specifying a desire for rules-of-my-world answers.

(b) Add "Why would X lead to Y?" questions to the Catalog of Question Types as off-topic in all cases.

(c) Add "Why would X lead to Y?" questions to the Catalog of Question Types as on-topic, which means they can't be closed as too broad by definition (they must still accomodate the rules of POB).

(d) Persuant to Cort Ammon's answer: Add "Why would X lead to Y?" questions to the Catalog of Question Types as on-topic but susceptible to being unclear and likely to be closed: please use our Sandbox or Chat to clarify the question.

And for completeness...

(e) Ignore the situation entirely.

With the goal of inviting the Moderators to add a line to the Help Center to reference this common question type.

  • I'm saying (d) too. I disagree with "as on-topic, which means they can't be closed as too broad by definition" - These are independent close reasons. All of these questions are in topic, if just too broad. Tying one with another is a mistake. – Mołot Oct 8 at 10:08
  • 1
    Anybody who asserts questions of those types are "asking us to develop a substantial portion of the OP's plot for them." are either not fiction writers or if they are then they don't what they're talking about. Never trust a gut reaction. Try working through the criteria for whether they are on-topic or not, then you'll know if they are or not. – a4android Oct 9 at 5:49
  • You don't even have to squint sideways at these questions to see they about worldbuilding. The problem with them is that they don't have immediately obvious answers. Although answers could be devised with logic, commonsense, reason, and cultural & historical examples. Thinking is often a challenge. – a4android Oct 9 at 5:56
  • @a4android, how odd... I never said they weren't about worldbuilding. And assuming the phrase "thinking is often a challenge" is a slant (I'd hate to think you're so ungracious)... I expect the OPs to think (and read), too. – JBH Oct 9 at 9:04
  • Actually the reason I said thinking is a challenge is because this type of question usually isn't easy to answer. I find them hard, and expect others will too, this makes it difficult to see if they can be answered within the rules. That's my point about not having "immediately obvious answers." – a4android Oct 10 at 1:01
  • (e) is the only choice that makes sense to me. I think that trying to do otherwise is the help-site version of "over engineering". – tgm1024 Oct 20 at 2:03
up vote 13 down vote accepted

I've been seeing a lot of those too. I'm not sure what to do with them. They remind me a lot of the questions we see on physics like "Why do photons have wavelengths?" The only true answer to these questions is "because they do," or perhaps to question our entire model based scientific approach from its roots. But most of the time it's because someone wants to hear an explanation using QM or some deeper system that they can believe is "true."

I think this happens in a lot of these questions you mention as well. People want some unassailable reason for a plot point because it's pivotal to their story and they don't want their story to sound cheap.

If I have the opportunity for a dialogue, the question I always like to ask is, "Well why not?" Their answer lets me know if they're just digging for something, or if they have some legitimate challenge to the idea. To use the Carnivores and Murder example, they ask "Why would my carnivorous species be opposed to murder," I ask "why not?" Does the OP think there's a consistency issue? Have they never ordered a steak in a restaurant?

Running down this line of reasoning often ferrets out the real question they should have been asking.

Unfortunately, the Q&A format of stack exchange isn't very amenable to this sort of thing. We should probably direct them at the sandbox to reformulate the question, with some hopeful phrasing like "Most Why would X lead to Y?" questions do get reformulated into valid questions, so that they don't give up hope. To me, this implies that the question must be closable, but there must be some wiggle room for a reformulated question to prosper. But I also wonder if it might make sense to bring that topic to chat. Some of these questions really benefit from a good solid dialogue.

  • 5
    +1 just for the phrase "...or some deeper system that they can believe is 'true.'" Most people today don't realize (or believe) just how much faith is required for modern science. Heck, I'm an engineer and I most certainly don't understand most of it. I just take it as a matter of faith that some other jovial person (mostly medical pros) does and I hope like crazy they're not lying to me. BUT, you've also brought up an alternative solution that's pretty good: send to sandbox/chat (making the Q intrinsically "unclear"). – JBH Oct 8 at 0:03
  • Remind me why aren't you a moderator again? – Mr.J Oct 15 at 6:42

As you mentioned, a lot of these types of questions are not really asking any question which has a real answer. Instead, they are asking "I'm having writer's block, so could you please load your idea shotgun and fire a bunch of ideas at me." They are asking people to write their story for them.

I still remember when I came across my first few of those kind of questions when I was new here. I would read something like "Why does my X do Y" and think "How are we supposed to know? Was that meant as a comment on someone else's question where you were asking for clarification, or are you asking us how the rules of your world work (which doesn't make sense)?"

I will not say what should be done with those questions; I merely offer a second opinion on the nature of the "questions."

If any negative action is taken against such questions, you should be very careful to not accidentally catch up the real questions that follow the same word pattern.

"If my people avoid iron and steel, what would they use instead?" is not really a question. Literally, you can take a list of all nouns in the language and throw a few darts at it to come up with a response. A more thoughtful response would be "Wood and mud," but how do I know that's what they would use? It's your story; you tell me what they use instead.

But "My people avoid iron and steel. They get awful headaches from the anti-magic properties. The anti-magical properties of iron are thought to be related to its reactivity to electricity and magnetism. The people still want to use the closest thing they can, preferably some kind of strong metal that can still be made into good weapons and armor but would not possess the headache-causing anti-magic properties (because it doesn't react to electricity or magnetism). For my people who avoid iron and steel, what would they use instead?" is a real, answerable question.

Of course, that example better question would be better answered by going to a chemistry, physics, engineering, or DIY stack exchange and asking the actual, literal question instead: "What metals would make good substitutes to iron/steel if I need to avoid magnetism and electrical conductivity?" Theoretically, you would get the best answers on engineering.SE (I say theoretically because of the kind of site it is, but WB happens to have lots of smart people here who answer even strict science-based questions).

So questions written in that pattern might be good questions, but they should be highly suspect of being not real questions. "If my people don't want to use iron, what would they use instead?" is not a real question, as "scotch tape" is a valid answer, as is "eye of newt and toe of frog."

The not-good version of the question is still a fine thing to say, but it is a full on discussion kind of a thing. Maybe direct them to the chat.

I'm goong with (d).

(d) Persuant to Cort Ammon's answer: Add "Why would X lead to Y?" questions to the Catalog of Question Types as on-topic but susceptible to being unclear and likely to be closed: please use our Sandbox or Chat to clarify the question.

Some of the questions mentioned suck, but some have had a positive reception and good answers. The problem is not the question format in itself, it is how the question can relate to world building. Therefore I find (c) and (d) good options, but (d) is nicer since it points people to where they can get their questions improved.

  • Goong! :-) I don't know whether to make a Gong Show reference or to link the Martians from Seseme Street. Let's go with the Martians, I like them better. – JBH Oct 8 at 22:54

Options (a) to (c) can be dismissed as unthinking, mechanical and likely to lead to nonsensical results. They might be right some of the time, but that sort of approach isn't worth pursuing.

The only sensible options are (d) and (e). Option (d) is likely to lead to useful results in terms of building a database of good questions and provide a source of information for querents who may be unaware of the complexity of the topic(s) about which they are trying to ask questions. Option (e) because people worry too much enough about matters which are likely to resolve themselves without too much trouble. Either that or they should take a stress pill and have a good lie down.

  • +1'sville. "Take a chill pill and be still" should be a recuring (and often reminded) motto in SE sites. (e) is absolutely what I would choose for this reason. As I stated elsewhere, anything else smacks of a form of over engineering. – tgm1024 Oct 20 at 2:07

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