My question here is sparked by a recent question on the Science-fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange site: This is a question about SF from a writer's point of view. Technically, SFF.SE's FAQ refers to Writers for all questions about writing. However I'm not sure if this particular question is best asked on Writers, and I'd like to know the Writers community's opinion on this issue.

I think questions about the art or craft of writing definitely belong on Writers, even if they're focused on a particular genre (e.g. What breaks suspension of disbelief?, migrated from SFF, or For Fantasy Stories, Should You Include a Map At the Beginning of the Book?). I'm less sure about questions that are intrinsically about a particular genre, and that are more about reader expectations than writer technique. is one example (asked on SFF.SE initially); Potential confusion: referring to home planet as "Earth" is another (asked on Writers).

From related prior discussion: "Is this realistic?" : Is that an off-topic question?, I gather that some questions about setting background (e.g. scientific or historical realism) are best asked to relevant communities.

So, mainly, as an SFF moderator, I'm asking where is the limit between SFF.SE questions and Writers.SE questions? There may be some overlap, of course. The SFF.SE community's attitude is more one of deference towards Writers — we're a consumer's community, we don't have writer expertise, but we don't reject writing questions per se, we just think they're better addressed on Writers.SE.

This is probably an instance of a more general question: what questions, while coming from a writer, are so domain-specific that they are better addressed by domain practitioners and enthusiasts?

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2 Answers

I'd say questions of research are off-topic at Writers.SE. That's because a research question isn't a question best answered by writers; it's best answered by experts of the particular area being researched. By extension, questions about specific decisions of worldbuilding and setting construction are not appropriate - except as they pertain to the actual writing.

So "What happens to somebody bit by lots of horror tropes?" is definitely off topic - it lies between expertise in the horror tropes (where SFF.SE is appropriate) and the utterly unanswerable question "what's the result of that in my particular setting/story" (which IMHO is poorly suited to any conceivable SE site).

Whereas "Is it confusing to refer to a home planet as Earth?" is perfectly on topic for Writers.SE. It's not a question of pure worldbuilding decisions ("Is it plausible for a colony to call their home planet Earth?"); it's asking about the effect of a specific decision on the task of writing. Note that this is:

  1. A writing question - it's not asking about the topic being written about; it's asking about how specific content affects the writing itself, and
  2. An answerable question, requesting specific, well-defined feedback, and not open to the "whatever answer works for you" pitfall.

I'm trying to phrase a succinct rule of thumb. I think it's this: Questions about determining the content of your writing are off topic. Whereas questions about how to write certain content are on topic. Here's some examples I think demonstrate where the line crosses:

Off Topic

  • "I'm writing a story taking place in Paris; what cool details can you give me?"
  • "I'm writing a story where there's lots of clones; how can my cloning technology work?"
  • "My characters are in a love triangle; what's an interesting ending for the character that gets cut out?"

On Topic

  • "How can I research a real-life location I want to write about, assuming I can't go there myself?"
  • "I'm writing a story where there's lots of clones; how can I write clearly about multiple clones of the same character in the same scene without confusing the reader?"
  • "Here's a scene resolving my big love triangle, can you tell me if you think my resolution is both convincing and exciting?"
BTW, I'd be curious to hear opinions on the migration of… from SFF to Writers. That's a question I'd imagine SFF readers might have a lot to say about, since it's a question about consumption experience. Obviously, the connection to Writers is clear - you write with the aim of achieving/avoiding a particular reader experience. –  Standback May 21 '11 at 22:11
Thanks, that's a nice insightful answer. I agree the biting question is borderline; expertise in the horror trope is how I hope to steer it towards, and based on your and HedgeMage's answers it'll stay on SFF. –  Gilles May 22 '11 at 10:30
The suspension of disbelief question was migrated with one of the Writers mods' agreement (I forget which). It had several close votes on SFF. My opinion was that it was not only a writer question more than a reader question, but also not specific to SF. If you'd like to discuss that further, chat would be best — either the Writers chat or the SFF chat (where someone else might actually join in the discussion). –  Gilles May 22 '11 at 10:30
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My understanding is that SFF is for consumers of scifi and fantasy literature. The questions you cited were migrated by their mods because writing is off-topic there.

Honestly, unless the question is blatantly off-topic or somehow diluting our focus, I'd rather err on the side of inclusion.

I'm the mod in question (: I wanted to try to get a better handle on the boundaries. In particular, I'd like to keep that new question on SFF, but it's had close votes. How much do you want it? –  Gilles May 21 '11 at 20:25
@Gilles I think the one about bites seems like more of a SFF because it's more about the "rules" that are generally accepted for those creatures. Potential confusion: referring to home planet as "Earth" is borderline -- I'm tempted to say it's a Writers question, though, because it would be equally applicable if I named by newly discovered land mass "Canada" or my underwater civilization "Atlantis" (but it's not THAT Atlantis). –  HedgeMage May 21 '11 at 20:34
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