A recent question about Painting ritualistic murder in a "good-guy" light? is clearly a what-to-write question.

It does not ask: How do I go about, if I have a problem with motivating a change in how one character evaluates the behavior of another character? That would be a how-to-write question. Instead it asks: "How can I get my character to" (that's the exact words) change his assessment? And that's a what-to-write question. The asker doesn't use their writing as an example for a question about a general approach to writing, an answer to which would be useful for other writers as well. Instead what they want want is a solution to their writing problem. And that's asking what to write.

So why does one of the highest rep users answer an off topic question, and why isn't this question put on hold as off topic?

What am I missing about the site rules?

  • Thanks for posting this, we clearly need a this discussion. – Neil Fein Dec 8 at 17:30

I don't see this as a "what to write" question. The author has a very clear sense of their goal -- they want their protagonist to gradually accept something unthinkable, as also being a harsh necessity. What they're having trouble with is the execution -- which makes sense to me; "How do I persuade the reader of something unthinkable" feels to me like a practical, well-defined problem.

I definitely see your concern; that this be treated as a brainstorming question, or "give me the magic password that will brainhack my readers." The actual answers, to my mind, don't succumb to this -- they talk about arcs, principles, reader expectations. Because they've identified that that's what the question is about -- or at least, that that is it's bigger, more answerable element.

Possibly the question might be edited for sharper focus. That the author is having trouble portraying the protagonist's shift powerfully, rather than "does anybody have a perfect plot twist that will convince readers." But I think the question is perfectly serviceable as-is, and is getting appropriate answers already :)

While I agree that the question could have been phrased better, and that the way it is written now, it walks the line, with such borderline cases I prefer to err on the side of allowing the question to stand. Several reasons for this:

  • The question can attract good answers (and this one indeed has, as @Standback points out). I would not deprive the community of those answers.
  • It is very discouraging to have a question closed. It is even more discouraging to have a question closed when it is borderline, when you have already edited and explained that you are not asking what to write (as was done in this case). We do not want to discourage and push away active users. We want to be welcoming and to grow.
  • The goal of this site is to answer questions and help people who write. The goal of this site is not, I think, to police how well a question is written. Since we can help by providing good useful answers, I think we should do that, rather than tell OP to go away.

As an alternative to closing, I would suggest editing the question, to make it more focused on the on-topic issues. As @Standback suggests. (I'm not talking of this particular question, and whether it needs an edit or can stand as is, but of borderline questions in general: if all they need is a nudge in the right direction, they should get that nudge, rather than a slap on the wrist.)

  • 2
    Editing makes sense. Maybe changing the title would be a good start, something along the lines of "how to make an epiphany believable"? – Neil Fein Dec 8 at 17:28

In my opinion, this question definitely walks the line between "what should I write" and "how do I achieve such-and-such a result". I'd vote to close if I were a user, but as a moderator I can't do that, I can only close it unilaterally - and I don't think the question is as blatantly what-to-write to warrant moderator intervention.

Please feel free to vote to close or flag the question.

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