I see a lot of questions on here that really just need an apparently simple answer like 'because the writers wanted it that way', 'because the author doesn't understand physics', or 'because it looks good on film/tv'.

These questions are all basically the same in that they look for an answer in the realm of the fiction to a question in the realm of the real.

So it seems to me that there's an underlying meta-question to all these which is something like 'why do writers of fiction use seemingly unrealistic mechanisms or outcomes in their writing?' and an associated meta-answer thats something like 'it seemed a good idea at the time' but my question and answer leave a lot to be desired in terms of wording.

So the question I'm asking is what's a succinct but informative way to state the meta-question and what is the succinct but informative answer?

  • 3
    Because creating a fully coherent, internally-consistent Alternate Universe is hard work. To be entertaining, it only has to appear somewhat realistic - people are willing to overlook a lot.
    – John C
    Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 13:13
  • Many times people are looking for "in universe" answers to their questions. This could be for entertainment, or for many other reasons, including actual research or just curiosity. For example, the Star Wars universe has many events and objects that defy common sense, and it's fascinating to see all the convoluted explanations that have been developed for support of things that might not otherwise make sense.
    – Tango
    Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 13:53

3 Answers 3


To be blunt, there's absolutely no point to this site if answers are going to be "It's that way because that's how it was written. Go away." Such answers should not be welcome regardless of how any question is phrased.

I think phrasing a question as "Why did X happen" should always be assumed to mean "in universe" unless someone specifically poses a question about the author's intent.

For example Vulcans almost certainly have pointy ears because it was an extremely easy and cheap costume for TV the 60s. Anyone wondering why Vulcans have pointy ears are almost certainly asking from an in-Universe biological point of view unless they explicitly define the question otherwise.


Those are all snarky non-answers better suited for a site like Writers which would go into the reaons behind the creation and plot instead of the in-universe logistics and reality.

Basically if the answers come in the form of:

  • It serves the plot
  • The writers wanted it done that way
  • It's a cash grab and they needed the plot hole to be there
  • Production is cheaper when you overlook such things ■

Come pitching with your downvotes and if you're so inclined, a comment as to the fact that such an answer is not really an answer and more commentary on the production/ficition.

Unless the question explicitly states it wants answers to the meta, then we should take all questions as needing in-universe explanations.

  • I don't see how you can seperate the two. Obviously, if somebody asks "Why does the protagonist of Pulp Fiction develop an imaginary friend?", then the answer "because that makes the movie cool" is a no-starter. But "Because this allows him to express his frustration and violent tendencies towards the streamlined, polite, neurotically restrictive modern world" is a much better answer than starting a discussion about common psychoses and chemical imbalances. Often, the answer to "why" is themeatic, not mechanical.
    – Standback
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 10:29

I think the reverse might be more useful: if you would like to avoid all kinds of meta-answers, just state the question like

"What is the in-universe explanation for ... ?".

If your intention is really to ask the meta-questions, you might ask "Why did the author write ... ?".

  • Sorry, I agree with Ben Broka. a vast majority of people asking questions on SFF are interested in in-universe explanations. Therefore in-universe should be a default assumption, whereas you should only assume the asker wanted out of universe explanation if they explicitly asked for it. Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 5:06
  • @DVK : Of course the in-universe answer should be default. The problem is, that many people don't realize it without a strong hint.
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 9:17
  • should be in the FAQ imho Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 15:17

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