After I raised the idea of case-study questions, I tried my hand at writing one.

I'm still a bit uneasy about this, since it seems to edge into literary criticism. But I'm eager to try, because I think this type of question gives us the opportunity to answer deeper questions regarding full-formed fiction. I think this can be good for us.

Does the question work for you? Do you think it's appropriate for Writers.SE? Do you think we should encourage more questions in this vein? Do such questions need any kind of additions, guidelines, or special attention?

EDITED TO ADD: Since those interested found my first attempt confusing, I've come up with a wider selection, on better-known books:

I cheerfully invite vigorous and critical discussion of whether any/all these are "good" questions and how well they fit our site (and what we'd like the site to be). Furthermore, if anybody would like to try their own hand at writing a case-study question, I'd be very interested to see others' take on the idea.

2 Answers 2


If it is a literary critique, I would vote to close as too localized if not off-topic. If it is a literary analysis then it's a different story.

I would like when people show what (they think) works or does not work using a concrete example. However, a disadvantage is that only a minority knows the books in question, which restricts the number of people who can answer the question. Nevertheless I would give it a try.

But to your "guidance" in your question:

If you disagree with my perception of this issue as a (potential) problem to be dealt with, I'd appreciate if you'd express your dissent via downvote ...

That's a bad idea. Meta Stack Overflow works this way and many people do not get it, do not want to understand it and love their rep much too much. Getting a downvote because stating one's opinion will drive people away. Meta.SO is only a meta site, so losing some people there does not hurt, but we shouldn't do that.

  • Good point. What I was trying to do there is differentiate between "I think this is a bad question (because you have blatantly misdiagnosed the problem)" and "Here is an answer to your question." In between lies "My subjective analysis is different from your subjective analysis, so I can't help you out on this one. Sorry!". That... might be a little much to lay on SO.
    – Standback
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 15:41
  • I think you had a good question but you chose a poor example, and I was reacting to your choice of example. Pick a different book or series and it's a good question to tackle. :) Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 22:47
  • Perhaps the test question should be migrated to meta? Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 2:20
  • @NeilFein, why do you want to migrate it here? For voting reasons? Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 9:29
  • @JohnSmithers - Yeah, but it'd get much less attention. I'm not sure meta's the best place either. What do you think? Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 17:08
  • @NeilFein: Meta is not the right place for this question. It would be off-topic, because it is no Meta discussion. And yes, almost no-one would find it. Standback's voting idea should be solved in a different way. Even though I do not know how (except commenting). Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 17:36
  • @JohnSmithers - I think you're right. Also, the question author's edit helps, removing the bit on voting and asking people to state their opinion of the question here on meta. Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 18:48

I disagree that your examples in the "contrived villain" question are, well, contrived.

Harry is eleven. Even adults often only hear what they want to hear and ignore evidence to the contrary. If Harry had overheard Snape and Quirrell discussing the Chudley Cannons' chances at the Quidditch World Cup, he'd have figured they were talking in code about himself. He's already suspicious of Snape, so everything the man does will be weighted negatively in Harry's eyes. He's ready and eager to believe the worst of Snape, no matter what Dumbledore tells him. (Frankly, this is why I found the end of Half-Blood Prince so unsatisfying, because even I could tell that Snape was a double agent at that point, but Harry refused to even consider it, and I'd never felt like I was one step ahead of the characters.)

When Quirrell is being bullied by his unseen opponent, if Harry hadn't seen Snape with his own eyes, he would have found some way to rationalize that it was Snape: Snape was invisible, talking to him in whatever the magical equivalent of telepathy is, and so on.

I honestly thought Hermione knocking over Quirrell on the way to get Snape was clever. And again, there was a gap between Quirrell's disruption and Snape's, but the Big Three saw what they wanted to see. They saw Snape had stopped, and didn't know that Quirrell had also, so they weren't looking at him.

Like the Hunger Games question, I disagree with the premise of this one. (The other two are quite good, however! :) )

  • I think a major problem of this type of question is that laying out any nontrivial premise/criticism is likely to raise objections. Do you think an answer explaining how Rowling successfully avoids contrivance would be an on-topic response to the question? Could you, hypothetically, suggest ways to make the twist feel even less contrived than you already perceive it to be? Or should the appropriate reaction to such a question be, "meh, disagree with the premise, I won't answer this qustion"? All of these sound reasonable to me.
    – Standback
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 12:03
  • Well, I already tried the "The author/plot doesn't do what you said" answer, and that ended up being deleted after vehement discussion. :) This is a YMMV question because of the example. Some people will agree that it's contrived and have answers for you. I happen to think it's not contrived, and I'm rebutting it here (because when I rebutted it on the main site we deleted the thread). In this case, on the main site, I will "meh, no answer" and leave it be. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:00
  • Your other two case-study questions don't depend on a reader sharing your perception of something, and so they are much easier to answer. Harry does trust Dumbledore; that's not up for debate. How Rowling accomplished that is worthy of dissection. Same with GOT: GRRM had one solution, and there are others, and the others have strengths and weaknesses which are worth exploring. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:02
  • Well, hypothetically, someone could certainly argue that Feast and Dance weren't inferior, or that the five-year gap wasn't the cause of their difficulties. That would be a rejection of the premise. So would, "Yeah, Harry thinks the world of Dumbledore, but I never trusted him" or "But Harry thinks Dumbledore might be wrong almost all the time!" Then again, this level of subjectivity - what is a problem, what isn't, what's a misunderstanding of the real issue - might be par for the course here. Parenting has this too.
    – Standback
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:07
  • BTW, do you think your response to the Hunger Games question is valuable after the massive rewrite? I thought it was mismatched, but if you think it still addresses the question, that's a very different matter.
    – Standback
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:08
  • Your premise in the Martin question is "this is the problem: there's a five-year gap. Martin fixed it with a book. What else could have been done to solve the problem?" and that's the question to be answered. You can't really argue with that premise; you can say the gap doesn't need to be addressed, but there's no arguing that the gap doesn't exist. (cont'd) Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:28
  • Similarly, you can say "I never trusted Dumbledore" or "Harry questions him constantly," but he does explicitly name himself "Dumbledore's man" more than once. The trust is there. You can argue that Rowling's methods didn't work, but not that she didn't try to establish Dumbledore as trustworthy. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:29
  • And now that you've edited the Hunger Games question, no, my answer no longer applies. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 13:30
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    Very interesting. Maybe I should change the SoIaF phrasing to be less judgemental :P I also think you're raising a really good point - asking about addressing an issue the author obviously faced is much stronger and more solid than addressing an issue I myself perceive as a criticism of the work.
    – Standback
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 14:02

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