6

Sometimes people will ask us to identify multiple stories. In this case, the correct course of action would seem straightforward: leave a comment asking them to edit the question to focus on a single story, and ask about the other story separately. If they don’t do that (or perhaps before), vote to close as “too broad,” as is usual with multiple questions in one. If the OP leaves, then the question gets closed as “too broad.” No problem here.

As we know, though, sometimes elements of various works get mixed up in questions.

What should we do, then, in the case where the querent believes that they are recalling a single, story, but are actually mixing up details from multiple works? Presumably, we should encourage the OP to edit and ask the rest separately. But what if the question is abandoned?

  • We can’t close as too broad, since the OP is not around to confirm that whatever partial match we might have discovered is really it, and that it’s not merely a single work that we hadn’t considered.
  • It would seem like a bad idea to provide a partial answer, because of the definite possibility that the other plot details are from separate works that need to be identified.
  • It would probably be a bad idea to try to identify the other works and write a single answer, since we don’t want multiple questions in one.

What is the best course of action?

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  • 3
    I'd suggest that we close as "Unclear what you're asking"...We want it closed (since there will never be a definitive answer) and it seems obvious that the question is, in fact, unclear. – Paulie_D Oct 2 '16 at 9:39
  • 2
    @Paulie_D - obvious to you, perhaps. But not necessarily obvious to the asker, who may turn round and say "actually, no, that's not what I was thinking of" – Valorum Oct 2 '16 at 22:11
11

First, a couple of notes about our own ignorance in such a scenario:

  1. We can't know that a question has been abandoned. Even when the OP hasn't been seen on the site for months, there's always the possibility that they might come back unexpectedly. E.g. on this question, the OP 'accepted' an answer via comment and only returned 6 months later to accept it properly.

  2. We can't know that the OP truly is conflating several different stories. It might look like their description is partly this and partly that, but that's often how real stories are written: by mixing elements of several existing ones. So it's always possible that everyone thinks the OP's question is a mixture of elements from two or more books but in fact it's a good description of a single little-known one.


Now on to your main question of how to deal with these questions.

  • They shouldn't necessarily be closed. This follows immediately from the 2nd point above: if there's even a chance that the question could be describing a single story, then it shouldn't be closed for mixing up elements from several. (Of course, it might still be close-worthy for a different reason, e.g. giving so little detail that it makes the story impossible to identify, but that's unlikely if there's enough detail for people to spot two or more stories in there.)

  • There's nothing to stop people from answering them. If you think you've correctly identified one or more of the stories being conflated in the question, then feel free to post it as an answer. There's nothing wrong with partial answers - they might not be worthy of acceptance, but they're not worthy of deletion either. And if you can identify all of the stories being conflated, even better! Even if the OP never returns to confirm your guess, a good answer is still a good answer.

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8

It's pretty common for a questioner (in good faith) to conflate two different works.

If you can positively identify both, you should do so in an answer;

"I think you're conflating "Work A" with "Work B".

If you can only identify one, you should answer with that and make it clear that you think the other element/s have come from another property;

"I think you're conflating "Work A" with something else because these bits fit and these bits don't".

The OP can then ask a follow-up question to disambiguate the missing parts


  • Questions like these should not be subject to a close vote. That only applies when the OP consciously asks a question about two different works.

  • The fact that they're 'abandoned' is irrelevant. They may have set an email watchdog and come back when the question gets answered. They may be using a different logon to watch the question periodically.

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