I asked a question after I carefully evaluated what is considered on-topic (under "Generating plot ideas") and read the related linked question. After some debate in the comments and getting two good answers the question was put on hold as "off-topic". The specific reason provided was

"This question appears to be off-topic because asking what to write or asking for help rephrasing a sentence or passage are both off-topic here, as such questions are very unlikely to help anybody else."

I disagree with this. "help rephrasing a sentence or passage" is definitely not what I did, so I guess it has to be "what to write". Following the provided link I find it very hard to understand how that could be applied to my question, further explanation would be nice. It's not that I have no idea what to do at all (I explicitly wrote in the question "I could work some way out"), but that I simply "would prefer if there would be a reasonable scenario where this doesn't even happen." Note that I also have the "what happened before" and "what happened after" worked out already.

The message's phrase "such questions are very unlikely to help anybody else" also doesn't seem to be true. As I said, after reading this answer I tried to abstract the current situation to a degree just under simply asking "Something would likely happen in the story, how can I make it not happen?". I left out many many many details (e.g. that one of the heroes kinda causes both the Big Problem and the Entity, talk about responsibility) so this situation could become recognizable to other fiction writers and help them. Some points in the answers wouldn't even work in my current setting, but that is okay because I asked a general question. Surprisingly enough, after a night of sleep I realized that the level of abstraction in my question allows me alone to apply it to not one, not two, but three(!) different occasions in my stories, where each time the Entity and the Big Problem are different things. I think it would be sad if questions like that wouldn't be allowed on Writing.SE

Side note: The question is really no good fit for Worldbuilding.SE because it simply isn't about building a world, but just plot. I'm also on that site and one of my sandbox questions has been found off-topic for exactly that reason. Also see this meta discussion there. And I know there are simple forums where such questions could be discussed, but this is also the case for almost any question on the SE network. I just think that Writing.SE could profit from such kind of questions.

Question: Are such general questions about how to nudge the plot in the right direction on-topic?

  • 1
    To me your specific question (with more specific detail) seems like it would fit in Worldbuilding (Searching "Why wouldn't" brings up a lot of responses and several of the answers you have refer to the nature of the entity (entity is God, entity's motives are unknown, entity's involvement leads to death) or culture of the hero (pride, free will, religious aspects)). I just read on worldbuilding so could very definitely be wrong, but if it fits there seems like it would make sense for it to be off topic here
    – mkbk
    Mar 25, 2018 at 22:25
  • 1
    Nvm. this question seems similar (in form), but it's from 3yrs ago and their question guide rules out questions about the plot. Sorry.
    – mkbk
    Mar 25, 2018 at 22:58

3 Answers 3


As another answer says, the line isn't as clear as we might like it to be.

I think you've done a good job of asking a plotting-technique question as opposed to a plot question. Stories where heroes struggle while super-powered beings are available aren't new, and it's reasonable to think that others could provide experience-based advice. (One example: aside from "it would be a really short book", why in the world doesn't Harry Potter alert Dumbledore to problems that threaten Hogwarts and all wizards instead of trying to figure it out himself?)

That's what I think, and I know that it's a fuzzy line so I'm reluctant to use my binding moderator vote to reopen, at least right away. But I'd like to see community discussion with an eye toward making any needed improvements and reopening.

Edit: Upon reflection, and after rereading the question Mark linked in the comments, I have a suggestion. Your current question asks for plot elements, which is problematic, and people answered that so you can't change that question out from under them now. But maybe you can ask a new question that focuses on plotting techniques -- not "what should my characters do" but "how can I figure out what my characters should do". You could reuse a fair bit of the content from your existing question, I think. (And maybe we should rename the tag to "plotting" to avoid misleading people.)

That said, I personally think this is a plot category or archtype that can help other people, not "write my story for me". Others disagree.

  • 2
    The question in question seems to me to be clearly off topic as "idea generation" under the proposed changes to the on topic rules in this post: writing.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1401/… I think this is the last piece of the get-out-of-our-rut initiative, and it seemed to garner a reasonable measure of agreement, but it has not been implemeted. Was it rejected or forgotten?
    – user16226
    Mar 22, 2018 at 23:52
  • 2
    @MarkBaker forgotten (speaking for myself); thanks for the prod. We need to find meta posts to link to; do you have suggestions? Mar 23, 2018 at 0:19
  • Looks like @Secespitus has identified a good set of meta posts to point to.
    – user16226
    Mar 23, 2018 at 10:50

General questions about plot are on-topic - but it's a big blurry region instead of a fine line

General questions should be allowed as these are relevant to other future readers that might be interested in a similar broad topic, just as this answer you linked says.

Specific questions about the plot of an individual author should not be allowed, as that won't be helpful to future readers.

The only problem is defining whether something falls on the "general" or the "specific" side, which many people would call a "fine line". While thinking about this topic I was reminded of a discussion about closing opinion-based questions on WorldBuilding, where I opted to call this not a fine line, but instead a big blurry region.

It's not easy to define "general" and "specific" in such a general case and with enough specifics to be applicable in every situation - it's simply a case-by-case decision that we as a community need to embrace. And the biggest problem is that everyone likely has a slightly different understanding of what "general" and "specific" mean. Therefore your line would be somewhere else than my line - which is why this is a region instead of a line. Furthermore there may be words, phrases or topics where someone is more inclined to "live and let live" and topics where someone might be harsher - which makes this region blurry.

I initially voted to put your question on hold as "What to write?", but you linked to these discussions and I retracted my vote. Now that I've had some time to look through the posts, here is what I think about your specific situation.

Things that make me want to say this is "general":

  • You tried to make your question as broad as possible by using generic terms such as "Entity" and "Big Problem"
  • You tried to describe the past in only a couple of sentences with generic plot ideas - getting hints or gadgets and solving problems
  • You tried to abstract what people or groups could likely do - the bullet points you listed

Things that make me want to say this is "specific":

  • Your specific details: your Entity is an AI and your extinction event is a superior alien race
  • Your specific problem: the first solution doesn't fit your style so it has to be something different
  • Your bullet points: there is no problem in not doing anything and there is a problem in doing something - but if the AI did nothing the aliens would overrun the Earth (or whatever planet you are working on) and then the AI would be alone or would get destroyed next -> the details show me that your bullet points seem to be in disagreement and that I would have to focus on solving your problem

And a separate problem: the answers are both lists. But the goal you mentioned, which is also the goal of StackExchange in general, is to have one question with one objectively best answer that the community votes to the top. Now we have a couple lists with multiple answers. Which of them is the best? And how do we discourage people to start writing half a dozen answers each? List answers that seem to be valid make me question whether the question is valid.

Considering the points above I think this question is - on my personal line... maybe with a small drift to "What to write?" because of the answers you already received.

I retracted my close vote, but I feel neither comfortable voting clearly to "Reopen" nor would I feel comfortable to vote to "Keep Closed" in its current state. I'll skip this one.

  • 1
    Concerning specific details: I thought no harm would be done to give a concrete example at that point, but if it shifts the question to be considered too specific, I have no problem of removing it. As I mentioned in my question here I already found two other use cases of the generic question. About the list answers: Maybe I should rephrase the question to "what could be a good reason...".
    – SK19
    Mar 22, 2018 at 21:56
  • 1
    What "the community votes to the top" isn't always the "one objectively best answer" or there would be no need to keep the secondary answers or the "Accepted" button.
    – SK19
    Mar 22, 2018 at 21:58
  • 1
    @SK19 The other answers are necessary to show other solutions that are not as good so that future readers know that these options exist if the highest voted one doesn't work for whatever reason and they know that these options are not the best solution in the general case. They might also have a slightly different question, which means that the other answers might perfectly answer their specific version of the question. Acceptance is on another scale again. It simply shows what worked specifically (which is subjective) for you to indicate to others one possible solution that did work.
    – Secespitus
    Mar 23, 2018 at 7:57
  • BTW: I voted to reopen your question after your edits.
    – Secespitus
    Mar 23, 2018 at 8:00

Why don't we just try something new?

This site is struggling with its beta status, unable to attract a significant number of new users. The issue has been discussed countless times on Meta, and there is a strong opinion that writers might be looking for solutions to problems that they aren't allowed to ask here.

So why aren't we courageous for once, instead of timid and afraid, and simply start an experiment. I suggest that we

try allowing plot-help questions for a limited time

for example for three months, or during NaNoWriMo (which would allow us time to plan and prepare for that), and after that period we evaluate how that experiment went and either keep allowing plot-help questions, if we agree that they brought valuable members and useful questions, or discontinue them, if these questions threw the site into chaos.

  • 2
    Absolutely. I've seen questions with 25+ upvotes get closed because they're considered to lean too much towards plot-help. That must be indicative of a lack of correlation between what people find helpful and what questions we're allowing to ask. Mar 25, 2018 at 10:40
  • 2
    Because writers is intended to serve a broad spectrum of writing disciplines, not just amateur fiction writers. One of the difficulties of attracting other writing disciplines is that the front page, at any given moment, tends to look like a fantasy fiction helpline. Allowing plot help questions would make that infinitely worse and make any hope of fulfilling our mandate of helping a wide range of professional writers impossible to achieve. Numbers alone are not enough for graduation. We need to demonstrate that we are producing quality and fulfilling our mandate.
    – user16226
    Mar 25, 2018 at 11:24
  • 3
    @MarkBaker What if the overwhelming majority of aspiring writers want to write fiction and the front page is simply respresentative of that? Why do you think Technical Communication SE didn't meet the participation threshold? Because there aren't so many people working in that field or interested in getting into it. Fiction on the other hand is something that a majority of the population want to write. If you impose artificial limitations on the site, it is never going to be attractive to most writers.
    – user29032
    Mar 25, 2018 at 15:24
  • 2
    @MarkBaker Much as I hate do disagree with a person whom I greatly respect, are you sure the problem is the front page? Look at the questions that stay unanswered for a long time - they're all not related to fiction writing. If I asked such a question, I would learn that this is not the right place, as there's nobody who can answer. And for academic writing, I'd go to academic SE anyway. The fact is, we have here a community of amateur fiction writers, and of fiction readers. Shouldn't we think of how to better serve the community we have, rather than trying to change who our community is? Mar 25, 2018 at 19:47
  • Actually, we're having a discussion where we shouldn't be having a discussion. @Cloudchaser, would you raise your idea as a separate question, so we can discuss it there? Mar 25, 2018 at 20:17
  • @Galastel not entirely, but amateur fiction currently does predominate, unfortunately. But that is not the mandate of the site. The mandate is the whole of professional writing. Changing the mandate is a huge undertaking. This has been discussed more than once. (See writing.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1378/…) It will doubtless be discussed again. If it does become just amateur fantasy fiction writers, I will be gone, as, I suspect, will a number of other frequent contributors.There are many places for amateur writers to chat.
    – user16226
    Mar 25, 2018 at 20:48
  • @MarkBaker Having benefited from your knowledgeable and thought-through answers, I would be sorry to see you go, especially if you go because there are too many people like me... Mar 25, 2018 at 21:13
  • 2
    Many sites struggle with one predominant topic. A few examples: Look at RPG.SE, also known as D&D.SE, or Arqade.SE, which often feels to me like Minecraft.SE, or SFF.SE, which basically is Story-ID.SE, or Gamedev.SE aka Unity.SE. Just because we have one dominant tag doesn't mean we can't accomodate other topics and it certainly doesn't mean we should throw the rest (or quality considerations) away...CC: @Mark
    – Secespitus
    Mar 26, 2018 at 7:22
  • @Galastel See my comment above (Sadly I can only ping one user per comment. Maybe we should switch this to the chat or start a new Meta discussion before this goes into a "Who needs to leave?" direction, hidden in the comments...)
    – Secespitus
    Mar 26, 2018 at 7:24
  • @Secespitus agree with you on all counts. Including the "let's switch to a new meta discussion". Other people might have something to say on the matter, and currently they wouldn't even know this discussion is taking place. Mar 26, 2018 at 11:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .