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I'm mainly active on Writing SE, but I'll often redirect someone here if I think their question is primarily about worldbuilding. However, I consider worldbuilding to be any kind of background research or backstory that may or may not make it onto the final page, but that helps make the writing more three-dimensional.

Recently someone told me I was wrong to direct someone to here if their question is not about an invented world. My own sense is that every work of fiction is inevitably in an invented world, it just may be an invented world that strongly resembles reality.

So my question is: Are "worldbuilding" type questions off topic here, if the the world is reality-based, and if so, why?

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  • $\begingroup$ The tour says this though: "Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers, artists and others using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings." $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. Nov 13 '18 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewT. I'm really asking more for a justification of the site scope. I understand that's the way it's currently defined. $\endgroup$ – Chris Sunami Nov 13 '18 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is relevant : worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6161/… $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 13 '18 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ I was hopping this was a request for a world building tag on Worldbuilding.SE, so we can find questions actually about building worlds. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Nov 14 '18 at 1:50
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Are "worldbuilding" type questions off topic here, if the the world is reality-based, and if so, why?

No; I would say that they are not off topic.

Lots of imaginary worlds take a planet, or country, as we know it, and make some changes to it. My opinion is, and always has been, that that type of questions are on topic; of course, this does not imply that every such question is on topic.

Not every worldbuilding exercise starts with an entirely blank slate. As you say, some imaginary worlds strongly resemble reality with just a few tweaks, and stories are written that explore those worlds.

That said, it's well worth keeping in mind that just because something isn't off topic on Worldbuilding, that doesn't necessarily make Worldbuilding the best place to ask the question. That depends on the focus you want in answers. Quite a few subjects have their own, subject-specific sites in the network; if you want an in-depth treatment of that subject, one of those sites might be a better place to ask the question. You might need to phrase your question differently, but that's okay.

What I have personally argued for in the past, is that questions that are only about the real world shouldn't be on topic. See for example my answer here. But that's a different issue, and one that was largely decided later (to my dismay, not in my favor).

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'Reality-based' is on topic

Worlds that can be created span a wide range of "realities," including those close to ours. Some of the most popular questions and answers on our site are strictly reality based, for example this one strictly conforms to our reality.

We have varieties of tags for different purposes. is for our world with slight changes. is for conforming fictional elements with our reality.

So, we accept questions about things reality based, so long as they are not explicitly about the real world is it is (or was). Our real world, but with a twist, is on topic.

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This is a great question and one I've had myself, so it's something I've been paying attention to over the months.

My first (and so far only) question here on WB was reality based (even though the event I am writing about is mythological). It was put on hold because of how I structured and explained it, not for the topic. The hold was then removed when I rewrote it. It was about communications in a huge migratory group.

The entire reason I found WB in the first place was in Googling information about travel times on foot. I found an excellent question and set of answers about traveling on horseback. Absolutely nothing imaginary about it. Although the author was going to use the information in her/his fiction, the question was 100% grounded in (historical) reality and the answers as well.

Since then, I've encountered dozens of well written and accepted questions all about the real world. Mostly historical, but not questions that really belong on a history site. I've also seen a bunch of questions get labeled as "off topic" because they crossed the line into history or politics. Or not... Sometimes the designations are more random. And, yeah, they are, because it's more about who sees the question early on and votes to close. If the question is already well established by the time someone sees it, they're less likely to vote to close it.

I'm newer here but, what I've seen so far tells me that questions about things that did or could happen here on earth are welcome if they're well-written. They do need to be about an issue that builds a world: politics, society, language/communication, technology, medicine, etc. In other words, about the structure of the world.

I've also seen that questions that are obviously science-fiction or fantasy will get a lot more leeway in how well-written they need to be. I've seen some pretty wonky presentations get editing advice and lots of answers.

Like you, I've referred people from Writing to WB. Sometimes it's clear and sometimes there is a fine line. Other times, the person might benefit by formulating 2 questions: one for here and one for there. But, yeah, I haven't seen any hard and fast rule about how to weigh the importance of reality.

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'Reality-based' is not off-topic by default

Answers by kingelodion and a CVn♦ are mostly OK

But not always on-topic

You can ask questions about your world based on real one. You can't just ask anything real world, add one liner in the spirit of "in my world" and expect people will be forced to treat it as on-topic. There should be some actual world building there.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, but you can just ask whatever. Like the question about how aliens would detect empathy in humans, answered with how humans detect empathy in rats. Zero world building required. Highly upvoted, asked and answered. The "site scope" includes anything with, e.g., dragon or alien in the text. That is all you've got to do. I don't have the wherewithal to call people out on every Q I've seen on the HNQ for like the last 6 months... $\endgroup$ – Mazura Nov 14 '18 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura, Just because many users don't bother with the rules and those of us who do can't spend 24/7 monitoring those who won't doesn't mean that, magically, there are no rules. This site is, in fact, intended to meet the purpose of building fictional worlds and all questions are expected to be asked for that purpose, whether we can close the offenders fast enough or not. Perhaps a better way to answer the OP's question is, "we do not prefer to answer questions about the real world for the sake of the real world. There are plenty of other places to ask such questions." $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 25 '18 at 6:51
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"Worldbuilding" means different things in different contexts. Coming from the writer's perspective, I think you're much more familiar with the "background research" definition. And this makes perfect sense, from the writer's perspective. Even if your story is set in Waukesha Wisconsin, you still have to do research in order to construct a believable simulacrum of a midwestern town. If for no other reason than that your readers will believe in your setting.

But "worldbuilding" here means a rather different thing altogether. As an independent art in and of itself, and also as an adjunct art with the purpose of creating a work of literature or a game setting or a comic, what is most frequently meant is some kind of fantasy or sci-fictive universe, world or setting. Possibly an alt-historical setting. You'll notice we have lots of questions about fantasy & science fiction races; aliens; starships; space travel; time travel. All these things that simply don't happen in Waukesha WI.

To quote from our welcome page: Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers, artists and others using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings.

As usually understood, "imaginary world and setting" is not the same thing as "real-world setting but with a couple fictional characters and fictionalised locations". That's why we often send people over to Writing.SE! Because they're not actually making a fictional or imaginary world.

Basically, "someone" is correct. Even though, if I stretched the definition of "invented world" to the breaking point, I can at least see the sense in your statement; I would still thank you not to send all those real-world worldbuilding querents over this way!

They're just going to end up frustrated, and so are many of us here.

So to answer: YES worldbuilding queries are on topic here. But NO, NOT REALLY -- the kind of worldbuilding you're talking about is I think best accomplished within Writing.SE for the simple fact that your kind of worldbuilding is simply a process of writing. Over here, it's often more an independent art and of a very different sort.

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There's no hard and fast rule, we tackle a lot of alternate-history questions, many of them successfully, so a question isn't automatically off-topic for being based in our own reality but very often questions about our real world are better asked on other stacks because we're not specialised in any one area Worldbuilding usually requires a lot of information from a number of different disciplines.

The main issue with a lot of questions that are real world based is that they effectively ask either "if I change A how does the next X-hundred years of world history play out?" or "if I change A how does the whole world change?", that usually makes them both too broad and primarily opinion based. So narrow, focused, questions about changing around aspects of the real world can work but questions about widespread change are unlikely to.

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