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This question on the history site was in reference to a proposed novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1938.

What was the Nature of Resistance in 1938 Czechoslovakia?

The more I think about it, the more I think it should be closed. I had earlier voted to close as "too localized." If I were to do it today, the reason would be "not a real question." I am asking this meta question both about the original question itself, and about future questions that may use a similar (and presumably flawed) format. I actually like the content per se.

I am not against using the site to research historical novels; I've written one or two (unpublished) ones myself. But I am critiquing the question from the point of view of a fellow amateur novelist.

A good question should be fairly narrow. A hypothetical question in my view might be something like this: "Some of my older friends or inlaws know someone who escaped from Sobibor (a death camp) in World War II. My novel is about what happened to such an escapee afterward. But how did s/he escape in the first place?" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_Sobibor

Ideally, the question would contain this link and ask for relevant details of the escape that the link doesn't provide. Here, the question is "limited" in scope insofar as it refers to one event that has a clear beginning and end.

On the other hand, the question about the "Resistance" in Czechoslovakia in 1938 is open-ended. First of all, there was NO "Resistance" in Czechoslovakia in 1938 when it was still a (nominally) independent country. The Cezch part of the country was taken over in March 1939, and the Resistance was organized later. And when the OP writes "I need to know what happened to the hero," whom did he meet, what would he have done, etc. it's like asking a "homework question."

An aspiring novelist is supposes to know these things! For us on SE to try to answer such a query is an invitation to a limitless set of answers. We would practically end up writing the novel itself, which is what we're NOT supposed to do on SE. A better question might be, would my hero have had a chance to meet President Benes at such and such a time and place. That, at least would be a question limited in scope.

I have recently come to the conclusion that a good answer on an SE has the property of "Turing completeness," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_completeness (i.e. comes to a halt). A good question will inspire "Turing complete" answers, while a bad one creates an "infinite loop" of answers. IMHO, the question has the latter, and not the former property.

Where should we draw the line on questions of this sort? Should they be closed or not? And would it be for the reasons I've cited?

  • I don't see how the question is too localized, but it is both vague and overly broad (thus, "not a real question"). There might be a good question in there (or perhaps 3-4 good questions), but I can't say I can find it. Luke's version (see comments) could be a step in the right direction. – yannis May 23 '13 at 22:12
  • @YannisRizos: Luke's question is not a bad one. But then it would be a "different" question, and one that would not need the "prop" of the novel. But the OP's question sounds like one that I asked my father at the age of 10: "Please give me a laundry list of French Resistance leaders and events, so that I can have my "Sound of Music"-like characters interact with them as they try to escape the country in "Ordeal in France." It doesn't sound like the OP has the plot figured out and wants to ask about one or two "missing" details. – Tom Au May 23 '13 at 23:18
  • "For us on SE to try to answer such a query is an invitation to a limitless set of answers." I believe that's the most important part of your question and the reason to not ask such things, or to at least write it in a different manner. – Darek Wędrychowski May 24 '13 at 1:24
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I would say that the types of questions that spawned this meta question should be closed as not a real question. These types of questions are really soliciting general reference information, and possibly counter-factual hypotheses. These questions would seem to invite discussion. What leaders should be included? What events were most important? And so on, and so on...

I agree with Tom that the question is interesting, but I think it isn't an appropriate fit for this site. If I come here looking for an answer to a question about history I don't want to read about a historical novel in the making.

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