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This is a bit more of an abstract question, but it's one that I think is going to become pretty important. It's also not something we're going to be able to resolve in a day, but I wanted to kick off discussion on the topic.

Literature.SE has seen a lot of questions so far. A good fraction have been in-universe, diegetic questions: why did character do X? Why didn't Y happen/work? Another fraction have been outside the text: why did the author decide to write Y as dysfunctional? Why did the author choose not to let Y happen/work?

The latter of these questions are arguably more "literary." The former of these questions are important, but for some definitions of literary, they are less so. Literary analysis tends to concern itself less with the diegesis itself, and more with the real-world, outside-the-narrative why of things - what's really being said.

So, what should our attitude be toward questions that are diegetic, and those that are not?

While this question is partially, maybe one of scope, there are aspects of it that are important whether or not it's in scope. It's one that needs to be addressed even if both are in-scope. I also don't want to push scope changes this early - it's just something to keep in mind.

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The best answers cover both in-universe and out-of-universe reasons. The character did X because they didn't yet have the information that Y would be better and W wouldn't be consistent with their temperament. The author did it this way because Y wouldn't have given the right symbolism and W would have cut the story short after 10 pages.

Questions asking why a plot element happened in a certain way should generally leave the field open for both kinds of explanations. There can be good reasons to focus on one or the other (e.g. “I can see that if the character had done W then there wouldn't have been a story, but what reasons does the story give for not doing W?”), but if there's no reason in the question then the question should allow both kinds of explanations.

  • Amen. The best answers on SFF tend to do precisely this dual approach, so it does work well in practice. – DVK Jan 19 '17 at 2:16
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I'd say we should treat them similarly. The only difference between literary analysis questions and more diegetic questions is that the former is more advanced than the latter. Questions that are more diegetic in nature are just as important and valuable as more technical questions, and if these questions aren't off-topic, I don't see why we should discourage them.

That's only my thought on the topic, though.

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