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I have seen several times questions of the following format:

"This is my idea for a story, is it too similar to existing published story X?"

For example here and here.

In their core underlying idea, those questions strike me as duplicates. Certainly the answers are general enough, and follow the format:

As long as your story is different enough, you're fine.

At the moment, we're closing those questions as various shapes of off-topic. But it strikes me that in its general form the question is not off-topic. Maybe we should instead ask the general question (maybe even in wiki format), get it answered once and for all, and close all particular questions as duplicates instead? It seems more logical to me.

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    Canonical questions are a thing on some other sites, and if there's good value in answering the canonical form of a question and then closing more specific instances as a duplicate of the canonical one, that's certainly one way forward. – a CVn Jul 23 '18 at 9:15
  • I fully support this OP. That is a writing question, and it can be answered in boilerplate. – user49466 Jul 23 '18 at 16:38
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I agree in principle. My fear would be that if we go down this road we will end up with about 15 canonical questions that cover everything that ever gets asked on the site.

I feel like I give essentially the same answer over and over again -- all stories are moral, all stories center on a decision, linguistic shibboleths are dumb, etc.

But I think writing is one of those fields where there are a handful of basic principles that cover most things that it is possible to generalize about, but that people have a very hard time recognizing that the particular problem is addressed by those principles.

An awful lot of answers here are essentially saying, your problem is a case of this general problem and here is a general principle that addressed that problem. The principles are common. The questions are individual. The answers point from the individual question to the common principles.

I think this happens on other SE sites as well, to one extent or another, and really it illustrates a flaw in the model -- the erroneous belief that if you write a canonical answer to a defined question, everyone with that question will find that answer and recognize its relevance to their question. It is a fallacy that affects much of the content industry as well.

The genius of the web is that it contains a hundred variations of every question, and it is those hundred variations that mean that no matter how you phrase you search you will find a way to a reasonable answer. But the idea of a single universal answer to a single canonical question is a pipe dream.

  • I don't disagree, except that in this case we don't answer the questions - we close them. – Galastel Jul 25 '18 at 8:35
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    @Galastel Well, that's not unreasonable per the current rules. "Is my story too similar to Moby Dick?" is both a request for critique and about existing literature, so doubly off topic. "How similar can a story be to another story?" is a general question and on topic. But there is a fallacy underlying the rules, which is partly evidenced by the people who rush to get answers in quick before a topic is inevitably closed. I don't think there is a way to fix this. The subject matter does not fit the model. We muddle along in kinda/sorta territory. – Mark Baker Jul 25 '18 at 10:46
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In general: Stack Exchange has, in the past, been okay with a certain level of duplication, but I think this is also very much decided by individual sites.

In this specific case: We can have a canonical question but allow variations when they're answerable questions. (This'd be questions that handle issues in specific genres, etc.)

Questions like "is my book different enough from Star Wars" should be closed, and questions that focus on how to determine if something is too derivative should be closed. However, if a question can be edited into something that's distinct and useful, by all means let's do that.

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    I think your third paragraph requires a small amount of editing for clarity... – a CVn Jul 26 '18 at 17:35
  • @michael Thanks for catching that, feel free to edit further – Neil Fein Jul 29 '18 at 20:18

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