Is asking how something or asking how to describe X on topic?

There are many questions like:

  • How a mature child would behave
  • How to show a crying scene

I feel like those type of questions are asking what to write, but they have some context. Does doing so make it on topic?

2 Answers 2


"How should I describe (THING)" is off-topic, as an "asking what to write" question.

Context isn't the issue here; it's the type of question being asked, and the type of answers that question is likely to get. "How would (PERSON) behave in (SITUATION)" is a question the writer needs to answer, for their own particular story, possibly with their own research and consulation -- but it's not Q&A, it's a brainstorming question, and allowing it would encourage a bunch of arbitrary questions that are low-effort to write and low-interest to read, for anybody outside the OP.

However, "I am trying to describe (THING), but have run into (PROBLEM)" is a very different matter.

For example, I read "Writing a crying scene" as "I am trying to describe (A SCENE WITH SOMEBODY CRYING), but having trouble because (THE CRYING GETS REALLY REPETITIVE)". This already highlights a concrete problem.

And, while a list of synonyms for "crying" and "tears" would technically be an acceptable answer, the answers you actually see include:

  • How to write emotions beyond surface physical expressions
  • How to re-structure the scene so the mere act of crying doesn't dominate it
  • How to observe real-life experiences for richer, more intimate detail

Each of these addresses OP's actual problem -- which isn't "I don't know what I want to write"; it's the very different problem of "I am writing, but it's coming out poorly because--".

Consider how very different the answers might be if the problem was:

  • "I'm trying to write a crying scene, but it feels overwrought for my character's personality."
  • "I'm trying to write a crying scene, but I don't want to create sexual tension."
  • "I'm trying to write a crying scene, but I never cry and I just can't connect to it."

Each one of these implies a different problem with a different solution -- that's why there answerable.
Whereas "I want to write a crying scene -- what should I write?" could only be answered by "Well, here's a suggestion for a crying scene," "Oh, here's another suggestion," "Here's three suggestions for a scene with four variations on the third," and that's pretty much what we're trying to avoid :)


It is perfectly fine for a significant number of this site's users to ask and answer what-to-write questions, but the site owners and those members that haven't left the site in disinterest or irritation have voted to make it off topic, so you can either leave for sites like Reddit or the Absolute Write Water Cooler where you aren't limited by rules that were invented for computer programming help sites like Stack Overflow and don't fit the needs of writers, or you can limit yourself to what is allowed here and not get certain important of your questions answered.

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