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Periodically we see questions of the following form:

After reading the back story and my description of my worldbuilding idea, what do you think?

I'm going to call this question type a Review My Idea question. The OP isn't looking for help solving a problem — they've already solved it — what they're looking for is insight into the quality of their effort (whether that takes the form of simple approval for a job well done or the more complex, "I really want you to shoot arrows at this idea" question).

I hope he doesn't mind, but I'd like to use a recent question by Ichthys King. He doesn't waste time with back story. The description of his worldbuilding problem and solution are clear, well thought out, and have supporting plausibility from Real Life examples. Frankly, his idea is really good.

He concludes his post by asking the following:

Could this adaptation work as I've described within realistic biology and physics, or is there something I've overlooked here?

I believe there are two questions there.

  1. One question asks if the idea is plausible in Real Life. That's not an uncommon question on Worldbuilding, even though it doesn't make sense as our goal is to help people build imaginary worlds. It reflects a desire for hard science (the genre, not the tag) or to be as "realistic as possible." We have a better Meta question that addresses this even though it's been made a bit out of date due to the recent change from the old Reality Check tag to the new tag. This is not the question we're focusing on in this post.

  2. It's the second question that's the focus of this post. He's asking for a review of his idea.

I admit that this form of question doesn't fit the mold Stack Exchange prefers. There isn't a single best answer, by definition all the answers are of equal value. But exceptions to Help Center rules are why we bring matters up in Meta.

I also admit that this question type is close to an existing question type: the question. However, I believe there is a difference. An question provides a set of rules and a test case or circumstance that exercises the rules and asks the community to judge if the developed rules are being consistently used.1 The Review-My-Idea question type only presents a rule, or a creature, or a technical design, and asks (simplistically) did I do a good job?

Finally, I admit that this question type can be abused as it could be used to circumvent asking a question about a real problem that would force the OP to adhere to the formal rules of the Stack and Stack Exchange. In other words, there might not be much difference between "can you help me solve my problem?" and "here's my half-baked idea, what do you think?" I would hope the latter would be a violation of whatever rules are devised for the question type.

Question: What advice should we give to users asking for a review of their idea?

The answers to this post will serve as a policy statement for the Stack. They may include but are not limited to:

  • A decision to support — or not support — questions of this type,
  • Rules we expect OPs to follow when asking a question of this type.
  • Restrictions we expect OPs to respect when asking a question of this type.
  • Expectations the OP should have concerning the nature of answers to their question.

If the community agrees that this is an on-topic question type, I will post a second Meta discussion about how to implement the decision. Let's avoid that discussion in this post.


Edit: I'd like to introduce an example of the danger of this question type. With my apologies to user98816:

This is an example of a "Review my Idea" question that's not well enough developed to be (IMO) worthy of asking. As I mention in a comment, thanks to Clarke's Third Law, the only possible answer is "yes." But that answer doesn't really help the OP or anyone else with Worlbuilding. Nevertheless, as you consider your answers, keep in mind the potential breadth of quality this question type might embrace.


1I believe it was Sphennings who made a good point about consistency that's worth repeating here. Our job is to help people create rules that can be used consistently, not to help people build consistent worlds. A world can be utterly chaotic and have no underlying logic at all so long as the rules the OP has developed can, themselves, be consistently applied. This idea might deserve a Meta post of its own, but it's important and I wanted people to be sure what I meant when I suggest rules should be consistently usable or use the phrase "consistent rules."

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    $\begingroup$ I'd say that internal-consistency is a subset of the idea review genre : It's targeting a specific category -consistency- you want to check is well-made, in place of any other like realism ^^. So yeah, it's different. $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2022 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ Very very often, a hard design requirement of a fictional world is that it has to be just like the real world with a few limited and well-circumscribed changes. For example, the fictional France in Balzac's Human Comedy is almost exactly like the real France except that it is not the real France, and that it has the most puissant Cénacle (which is definitely not the real life effete Cénacle.) Or Sherlock Holmes's Britain, which is almost exactly like real Britain, the only major differences ... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 9, 2022 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ ... being the existence of a large-scale criminal organization and the existence of a functionl black operations department in the government. Or consider the fictional France of Eugene Sue's Mysteries of Paris or Ponson du Terrail's Rocambole -- those Frances are very obviously not the real France, but they were required to be sufficiently similar to real France so that readers would be able to confuse them with a minimum of effort for the suspension of disbelief. Overall, I believe that limiting the site to be building of overtly fantastic worlds would be detrimental. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 9, 2022 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I can't speak to Balzac's work, I've not read it. The differences in Sherlock Holme's Britain are storybuilding changes, not worldbuilding changes. Worldbuilding exists independent of any and all stories that can be told in the world. That's why the help center states that we're here to help people build an imaginary world. The problem with people who are looking for "as realistic as I can" is that 99% of the querents don't have the education to know the difference between "real enough" and "actually can exist." We could handle the former. We don't answer the later. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 9, 2022 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP However, to make an important point, you're commenting about bullet #1, whichis not under consideration for this post. I'm more than happy to bring the issues of #1 and the linked Meta page into discussion again, but they're not under discussion for this post. I'm trying to avoid this post's intent being hijacked over something it isn't intended to consider. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 9, 2022 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ I'm glad you brought this to attention. There've been many times I wanted to ask a "is my concept feasible?" question, but was unsure if it fit the guidelines due to lacking a clear "problem" that needs solving. Really, I just wanted people more knowledgeable than myself to poke holes into it or point out flaws/failure modes so I can continue to refine/shape it. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Nov 12, 2022 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Why is "yes" the only possible answer to the nanobot question? Several answers have addressed the limitations of nanobots, in a way that imho is quite helpful to the querent - more so than if they had skipped over asking "can I" and went straight to the consequence question you suggested. Do you have a suggestion for how this question should have been worded, assuming that the querent wished to learn about the practicality of using nanobots for the suggested task? $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Nov 20, 2022 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm "yes" is the only answer to the question as-asked because per the help center we only address the needs of imaginary worlds, wherein the answer is always yes. Limitations were not requested by the OP and it's only your assumption that they make a relevant answer and it's nothing more than a guess on your part if they were helpful to the OP. The point of this post is to provide insight to help people ask "review my idea" questions better. Do you have advice? A post would be helpful. An argument about how a poorly asked question isn't poor in your eyes isn't. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 20, 2022 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I have already submitted an answer and advice, but since then you have added the nanobot question as an example of poorness. I'm trying to understand precisely what makes that question poor in your eyes so that I know if my answer is still up-to-date. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Nov 20, 2022 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH "Limitations were not requested by the OP" To me the question "Can X do Y?" is inquiry for limitations on that idea. I am curious what else you think it could be asking for. "It's fiction, you can write whatever you want" is an equally valid answer to every single question on this stack and equally unhelpful on all of them. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Nov 20, 2022 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH For the record, my advice would be to suggest to the OP that they clarify how they want their idea tested; for example the physical limitations behind the nanobot approach, or perhaps economical limitations - the dimension/ruleset to test it against. "Eh? Eh?" certainly won't win any awards for clarity, I downvoted it for that reason. But it was never in any doubt to me that they wanted their idea tested against something. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Nov 20, 2022 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm "to me... is inquirry for limitations..." That's the problem. You're making an assumption about the question. The point of providing Meta advice is to help new users understand that a question that relies on respondents making assumptions is a poor question. The reason I've posted this meta quesiton is because "it's fiction..." is exactly what you say it is, a lousy answer, but it underscores a lack of clarity on the OP's part that is inappropriately compensated for by respondents making assumptions. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 21, 2022 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Ok so your point is that the nanobot question is poor because it does not state an explicit question. Good to know, my answer to this meta question fits with that. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Nov 21, 2022 at 11:27

3 Answers 3

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Tip : Give a clear perspective to look at

"What do you think about X concept?" is often extremely vague; Alone it asks for one's personal opinion on the topic as a whole. This makes them especially vulnerable for these closure reasons :

  • Need more focus : you implicitly ask on everything in the concept.
  • Opinion-based : Every answers are more than likely to be based on what the answerer thinks is important instead of some more objective criterias; There won't be an easy way to scale answers' quality.
  • And need details or clarity : Answerers will be uncertain about what you actually need or want to know.

To avoid this you need to state where we should focus our sight, what's important to know for you. In other words, the goals you want to reach. This is especially important in concept reviews.

To keep the same word throughout this answer, I will call these goals "intentions" from now on.

How can you find the question's main intention?

Ideally, you already have your intentions as a worldbuilder. You can use these as a baseline for your question's intention. These worldbuilder intentions include -but are not limited to- the genre you want to fall in (hard science-fiction, horror, comedy...), what you want to talk about (a perspective on human life...), your targeted audience (kids and their parents, young couples...), and what do you feel is important for you (e.g. : I absolutely want dog-men in my world 🐶!).

If it's not enough, you can use your doubts as intentions, too. Take the most important concern you have, the one that just cannot get out of your mind. The one that will determine alone the fate of the whole concept. This is likely a very good intention for your question.

When you get your question's main intention, you should be able to deduce what you need to focus on first and foremost. For instance, if you're making a high-tech, action-packed movie about spies, you'll be more interested in having cool looking high-tech weaponry with fun interactions than knowing how many bullets any of them can hold. So if you're designing a deadly cryo-pen, you should perhaps double-check the (side)-effects of throwing jets of liquid nitrogen first before any hard anchor in reality like how it can stay cold for so long. Not that the latter isn't interesting at all, it's just not critical in regards to the work you're doing, and can be dealt later.

Finally, remember to focus on as little intentions as possible in your question, ideally one or two. The less you have at once, the easier it will be to grasp what you want to know. If you end with too many, make a choice and remember that this choice is not definitive for neither your world nor other questions.

Can you give examples of how it could improve my questions?

Compare this :

– Heya, what do you think about my giant glass bottle house standing on the seabed?
– Uh... It looks cool, I guess? I'm not sure what to tell, actually...

With this :

– Heya, what do you think about my giant glass bottle house standing on the seabed? I want things to be plausible in regards to physics, so can you tell me how well it would fare in this regard?
– Well, I think that your house will fall onto the side, because it's so tall and well, it lacks fundations to stand on. The water current will just topple it down.

Note how easier it becomes to answer very accurately about what you need to be checked. It's because as an answerer you don't need anymore to think what would be interesting to talk about, you just need to know if it is doing well in regards to the question's intention. Here are other examples, using the same base question "what do you think about X?" and extended with intentions :

  • What do you think about this country spread on multiple, far apart islands? With this government and economy I designed, could it actually help keep a consistent culture and strong patriotism across all lands?
  • What do you think about this gigantic bomber plane I made? Do you think it will have enough firepower to destroy this kind of city with only one pass of one of them?
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On topic or not

The vast majority, if not all questions here, involves testing ideas against rules. Going through the ones currently at the top of the feed;

So sets of rules are often branches of science, which are essentially categories of rules and models following our understanding of reality. Then the questions have the addition of testing the idea against itself, because the idea can be used to make up rules.

In some of these questions the idea is fully thought out and the question is for validation/consistency, in others it is an idea with a specific gap (the problem to solve), and in still others it's a mere concept that needs narrowing down in order to create the rules for a world. I think all three types are equally valid worldbuilding.

So for all "is my idea feasible" questions I think that meeting the overall rules for Worldbuilding.SE is enough, and that they shouldn't need to jump through additional hoops. Many questions are feasibility tests, even if some are less overtly calling it so. Banning or restricting this category makes no sense to me.

Specific rules

You could try to be more specific as it comes to this category, in order to dissuade lazy questioners from pasting in their idea unformatted and expecting feedback on every part of it, from every angle. Particularly targeted therefore should be the need for narrow and objective scoring criteria.

Questions that ask only for feasibility without saying what makes an answer feasible, which system of rules to use; those questions don't specify any quality criteria for the answers. That renders them opinion-based. Figuring out new site policy to classify some of those as valid questions would be a challenge, and I'm personally not going to try to meet it.

Ichtys King's question specifies that it is asking for testing against "realistic biology and physics", so in my opinion it meets this threshold. I don't see the question as a particularly novel form compared to the existing body of questions.

So to respond to two of the bullet points:

  • A decision to support — or not support — questions of this type

    • I support it if they have objective scoring criteria: feasibility is defined as a test against a set of rules. Those include but are not necessarily limited to branches of science, and the idea itself. (I personally think law should be included too)
  • Rules we expect OPs to follow when asking a question of this type.

    • That the feasibility criteria are still reasonably narrow and alike in perspective. If you ask for idea validation from the perspective of both natural physics, economics and sociology; then you've most likely asked multiple questions at once.
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Bumped Up a Notch

I see this Review My Idea kind of question as actually a form of problem solving in Worldbuilding. It's just that we're being asked to solve a different kind of problem. This is a higher level question. I'd envision the WB.SE as a one room school house, as it were, and within that school house, we might expect students of different maturity levels to be present and that these students will ask questions of different depths and differing areas of focus.

We might consider a basic four tier structure of valid problem solving questions here:

Can I Have This
This is a pretty grammar school question, sort of entry level in nature. Philosophically, this is a very weak kind of WB query: obviously the only correct answer is yes and this can be seen in comments as "it's your world, put in it what you want!"; it presumes a less matured perspective on the art, almost as if a newish worldbuilder were seeking permission to do something.

The problems we're asked about at this level are more about building blocks and what they're for.

Is This Feasible
This is more of a high school query. It presumes a rapidly evolving and more mature approach to worldbuilding. These tend to be stronger, more solid queries. The worldbuilder already has a pretty good grasp and is trying to put it all together.

The problems we're asked about here really are those of "fundamental rules of the world" --- we have the building blocks, now we're putting them together!

Review My Idea
This is now a uni level query. We've moved from the kiddie pool into the olympic pool. This is a far stronger and more engaging kind of query as the worldbuilder has the underlying work done and is now looking for higher level peer evaluation.

The problems we're asked about new is not "fundamental rules of the world", but are now more existential and integrational in nature. "Is this subcreation good?" "Did you get the point I was trying to make with this piece of worldbuilding?"

Higher level problem solving!

Metaphysics: Beyond as Within
Questions of the post-grad type, deep oceanic philosophical and introspective queries.

The problems looked at here are likely the quintessentials: Why is this so; What was the reason; What is the meaning.


All that said, I'd argue that Ichthys King's query looks like an "is this feasible" query (what we used to call Reality Check, and now, as you state, Internal Consistency); but in reality is more of an "is this good" kind of question. Definitely a Tertirary level query and one of IK's better questions!

Looking back on my own history here at WB, I see that I've asked only three queries. Largely they were idea tests, and all of the "is this feasible" type.

I think that if I were to delve into question asking my queries would have to be of this tertiary or even a more advanced quaternary type.


  • A decision to support — or not support — questions of this type: I 100% support this kind of query in WB.SE
  • Rules we expect OPs to follow when asking a question of this type: 1. the question must show a clear and obvious worldbuilding context; 2. the question must demonstrate a command of artistry; 3. the querent must demonstrate a clear understanding of the world the querent is actually working on; 4. the subject matter of the query should demonstrate integration within the world as a whole; 5. the querent must make themselves available for discussion
  • Restrictions we expect OPs to respect when asking a question of this type: I think restrictions will be hardest to impose but I'd like to see this kind of query restricted to users who have an accessible corpus of work that can be examined. You are asking me to review and judge your work --- I need to see your work! Respondents must be given the opportunity to see & experience this world as a work of art --- which means that the querent ought to provide or be able to provide links to books published (in print or pdf), links to online stories, links to online world related images, music, artifacts and other evidence of worldbuilding. To go back to IK's example, it would be nice to see that creature in action, either through a story or a fictional encyclopedia entry outside of the SE question itself. A tertiary question should integrate its own subject matter within the broader context of the world which that subject matter is part of. I think this would prevent the kind of abuse you worry about. If you want to play with the big boys, you've got to put your money where your mouth is. I think we as community should expect a higher level of cognizance and ethics from querents: we should expect a higher quality question from the get go.
  • Expectations the OP should have concerning the nature of answers to their question: All in all, I think a deeper question of this type should demonstrate a clear understanding of all underlying WB.SE concepts, so the question itself should be well formulated, and that includes what you want out of an answer. It should be very clearly stated what kind of review you're looking for. You gave two examples: "is this good" and "in what ways is this piece lacking". Other examples could be "how does this demonstrate artistry?" "Does this follow good artistic principles?" "Is this piece consistent with a general philosophy of art that propounds X, Y, and Z?"

  • Expectations for Respondents: You didn't specify, but I think it goes without saying that respondents to this kind of query ought to adhere to some pretty strong expectations as well! We could set a simple expectation of 1000 or 5000 rep points just to answer. A little arbitrary, perhaps, but if I asked a Tertiary or Quaternary level question, I'd really want someone who's prepared to think deeply and respond artistically; someone who knows the community, someone who is active in the community, someone who gets worldbuilding as an art form. I think a restriction aimed at focusing on the Illuminati of this forum would help to improve response quality. I think respondents ought to be able to offer links to their own works as well. A respondent should have a sort of CV or portfolio of work that would serve to demonstrate some kind of objective criteria for having the wherewithal to approach and answer this kind of query.
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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I understood this part : Are you telling that the "Can I Have This" question kind is more likely going to be accepted than not? I mean on this website, not as a worldbuilding question alone (which, as you tell, is phiso... philosophically weak.) $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2022 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena --- Any of these question types can be "accepted" here. If you're Can I Have This question is poorly conceived, e.g. "Can I have a purple sun" it's probably going to be closed. If your query is "Given that my world is like this and like that, and has this, that, and the other properties, can I have a purple sun" it's more likely to be accepted and more likely to get a good answer. The answer to both is still "yes", but the second question is more likely to get a worldbuilding rationale. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 11, 2022 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ Or the slightly different question... "can my world have a green sun" which is actually a solid "no" because of how black body radiation works. But if you don't have a decent background in astronomy, then there is no reason to assume that a person should know if either of those are possible; so, both seem like reasonable questions even without additional information. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 16, 2022 at 19:13

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