And again, I don't understand why a question that clearly asks for brainstorming help on what to write doesn't get closed.

Please explain the site rules regarding "what to write" in sufficient detail for me to understand them.

Thank you.


To explain. The question asks (verbatim): "How can you portray this in a less negative or at least sympathetic, light to avoid this?" (sic)

That, to me, is not asking for how to approach this problem as a writer ("how to write") but rather the asker wants to be told with which textual content (words, phrases, arguments) they can convey a certain meaning. The question is not: "How do I find the right arguments if I want to convice the reader of something they don't believe?" (which would be asking how to write and on topic), but: "How do I portray this?", which is essentially: "What do I write to portray this?"

And in fact all of the answers explain what to write, not how to write, because they proposed content (what), not approach (how).

Therefore, neither the question nor the answers are helpful for other writers, which clearly shows that both questions and answers are focussed on the content (what) of this specific case, not on how to approach a problem in a way that would be helpful to many writers.

This is basically the same questions asked in a how-to-write manner.

Another question that asked for "help in portraying it" was closed as off topic two days earlier.


The distinction lies here in that the OP is not asking for brainstorming ideas on what to write. They already know what they want to right, and they are asking for help in portraying it, which IS on-topic here.

If it were asking for a critique of what already has been written, or provided a excerpt and asked "How can I make this xyz?", then that would be off topic

  • "Help in portraying it" was what this question asked about, for which it was closed as off topic. – user34178 Dec 13 '18 at 6:25
  • @user57423 Because that question you linked is extremely broad, ill-defined and open ended. There is nothing specific at all. Compared to the OP in question here, where it's a lot more specific saying I've got outcome x, for reason y - how can I portray this. I'm curious though, it appears you have a particular axe to grind with this question? Why is that? – Thomo Dec 13 '18 at 23:05

So, I answered that question and it seemed like a "How" question instead of a "What" question. I answered with a writing approach, including some information about what the author would need to include in order to explain to a normal anti-infanticide reader why these babies were being killed. Infanticide makes logical sense to the person in the story, so with sufficient exposition, it probably would make sense to a normal reader.

There is also the writers chat room where a real-time conversation can be had on the subject.

  • See my edit. You explained to the asker what to write, not how to write, because you proposed content (what), not approach (how). – user34178 Dec 13 '18 at 6:16
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    I'm pretty sure I gave them a process to follow to lead a reader to the same conclusions as the character in the story. My directions now read, "Explain, through expository, the physical and cultural circumstances that lead a character to kill an infant." Most of the examples of Why have been removed which I think you were confusing with What. – Green Dec 13 '18 at 14:21

In addition to the other answers, which I agree with, there's also the simple fact that you've only VTCed the question a short while ago. In order for a question to be closed, four people need to see your vote and agree with it (to a total of five VTCs). I don't think that many people have had the chance to see the Close Votes queue and consider this question yet.

Basically, even if your VTC is justified, it takes time for it to take effect. Same with "low quality" flags, etc.

  • I understand the VTC process. The question has five answers. That were five opportunities to vote to close. The question also has 1600 views. That were 1600 opportunities to vote to close. So quite apparently "time" is not the issue here. Some questions are closed within an hour or two, so it doesn't take days to close a question. So if you would explain how that question isn't off topic that would be quite helpful, as that is what I was asking for. – user34178 Dec 13 '18 at 6:05
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    "The question also has 1600 views. That were 1600 opportunities to vote to close." Not quite. You need a certain amount of rep before you can cast close votes. Some of those viewers might not even have had accounts. I understand your point, though. – F1Krazy Dec 13 '18 at 6:36

Through long experience with the site, I've developed a pretty handy rule of thumb. I evaluate a question by trying to fit it into the following format:

"I am trying to accomplish (GOAL). However, I have encountered (PROBLEM)."

If I can do that, then "How do I solve (PROBLEM) and accomplish (GOAL)?" is an answerable question.

Whereas the less-answerable type is usually missing a problem -- the OP has a goal, "I want to write (GOAL)", and there's no evident obstacle to them doing that thing. Or, if they have a (PROBLEM), it's on the lines of "But I don't want to write," or "But I don't have any ideas," or "But I'd rather brainstorm here with you." We're not a good or appropriate place for any of that, so if your problem is "But I don't know what to write," we close that.

This question has a pretty clear problem -- "This society does something hideous unknowingly; how do I keep at least some reader sympathy?"
The other question you brought up has a question that's similar, although almost flipped: "How do I get the reader on board with doing something horrible because it's absolutely necessary?"

Neither of these are asking "what should I write"; they have their characters and planned arcs and maybe even solid events mapped out or written. Instead, each is pointing to a tension that they haven't managed to solve.

Solving that tension seems to me like a bona-fide (PROBLEM) -- a writing question, and one which other writers may encounter on their own similar attempts.

Likewise, good answers will not be "Here's something you can write." They're on the lines of "Here's how that tension looks; here's how you need to approach it; here's the relevant reader expectations, and ways to deal with them."

And lastly: Writing.SE is an inherently subjective site. It's fantastic that you're grappling with our on-topic definitions and figuring out what does and doesn't belong. And it definitely makes sense that different members have different opinions of where those boundaries are!

I would strongly suggest, for your own benefit, that you try and build up your own sense of what makes a "good" Writing.SE question, and where some of these boundaries are. You can play your own pretend site-definition game, where you invent a few "good" questions and a few "bad" ones and define what makes them good and bad.

Whatever you come up with, I suspect it'll be interesting, and give you a more general yardstick to evaluate questions with. That can be really helpful -- and, if you're having trouble with community consensus on these specific cases, you might do better to discuss bigger principles than individual questions :)

All the best!

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    Thank you, those are useful thoughts. – user34178 Dec 13 '18 at 20:22

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