Detailed research is all very well, but quite honestly there are times when it would just be a better use of your time to fire off a quick question and get a quick reply from the bounteous well of Helpful People On The Internet. To pay the good deed forward you could give a little of your time to answering the questions of others.

I'm primarily talking about things that can be answered in a flash by someone who knows an area (which could be a literal area or an area of knowledge), but which I would have to spend quite a lot of time delving into to even find out which forum, Stack Exchange or otherwise, would be best place to get an answer.

To illustrate, here are two questions of the sort I mean:

I was very happy to offer answers to both questions, but many people do not approve of this sort of question appearing on StackExchange. One of the questions above was closed, and the other got votes to close. Similar questions on Worldbuilding.StackExchange have had a similar mixed reception.

My main question is whether there is a forum where writers are unquestionably welcome to ask and answer questions of this sort.

(Lurking in the wings I have a potential second question as to whether Writing.StackExchange should be such a forum. But perhaps that would be better asked in meta - and in any case if somewhere else is already open to such questions, there is no need to start a controversy here.)

There are also types of questions that I would like to ask in this "Research Exchange for Writers" forum (if it exists) that would probably be rejected as idea generation here. Things like suggestions for plausible names of characters, places or institutions in foreign countries, requests for little snatches of dialogue in foreign languages, suggestions as to advice on convincing little details to add to the dialogue of characters from backgrounds or places unfamiliar to me.

In the hope of heading off criticism for being slapdash, I would like to emphasize that I'm a great believer in detailed research for the core of your story. However the level of research suggested in this excellent answer would be just too time consuming when all you want to do is have a secondary character throw out a few words about his job or her hometown. For me, spending too much time on that is an addictive temptation I must avoid. This is why I'm looking for a place where I can get answers quickly, if anyone knows of one.

4 Answers 4


You might have a look at the Little Details community on LiveJournal. The administrators describe the purpose of the site as follows:

We have a large, diverse membership that can answer questions such as:

  • "If I hit my character on the head like so, what will happen?"
  • "Will this destroy the Earth?"

All types of fiction writers--professional, amateur, fanfiction, original--are welcome to post questions. Our focus is on factual accuracy rather than general writing advice.

There are a few rules regarding posting that can be found listed on the community's profile page, the most pertinent of which are listed below:

  • At least attempt to research your question before posting. This means a Google search, at the very least. If your question isn't the type that can be googled or you need help coming up with fruitful search terms, no worries; just say so.

  • If someone asks for a translation of a word or phrase into another language, don't refer them to Google Translate or another automatic translation site. Automatic translation has gotten a lot better since this community was founded back in 2004, but it can still give results that are nothing like what a native speaker would say.

  • Avoid giving the impression of reliability where there is none. Most of the writers who ask questions here are looking for accurate information. If you're only offering speculation or information from an unreliable source, then let the poster know.

  • This looks very close indeed to what I was looking for. In particular it accepts the practice of giving a brief summary of the specific plot point and asking if there are any problems. For excellent reasons that wouldn't be welcome on Stack Exchange, yet it is something that would occasionally help me. Thank you! Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 22:54

I can suggest reddit.com/r/[country/city name] - it will get you answers from any half-civilized moderately populated part of the world. Just take the answers with a grain of salt. You're likely to get some regional inside joke answers and the likes among them. You really shouldn't ask the locals for "Wpierdol" when visiting Nowa Huta.

  • This looks a great resource, and hugely entertaining reading as well. Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 23:16

I don't think it's productive to look for one web site that would answer any question you might have as a writer. The expertise required would be too broad. I think it would make more sense to go to web sites specifically targeted to your question.

A writer might well have questions ranging from "what are common names that people give to pets in London" to "how do women in Afghanistan greet each other" to "how much fuel would be required for a space ship containing ten people to travel to Mars" to ... etc.

A site geared to writers would presumably attract writers. There is no reason to believe that other writers would be knowledgeable about any conceivable subject that you might be writing about. If you want to know about rice farming in Bangladesh, you're better to go to a site about Bangladesh or about farming than to a site for writers.

Personally, I don't mind if you want to post such questions here and see if anyone has a useful answer. But I think the moderators will shoot you down.

  • There is a class of questions that are so trivial (which does not necessarily make them easy to answer) that you won't easily find a forum where they are discussed. Looking at your examples, the third one about the spaceship requires a bit of maths and physics expertise and is a perfect fit for Worldbuilding SE. But the first one I could answer as well as anyone, and with the added advantage that I won't think you're weird for asking. The question about women in Afghanistan is somewhere in the middle. Googling, I found some hits for "Afghan forum" but I would have felt embarrassed to... Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 22:26
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    ...intrude in the quite serious discussions I saw there between what mostly appeared to be exiles from that troubled land with, "Hi! I'm a would-be author and I want to know how women greet each other round your way." Many of the questions I'm thinking about aren't the sort of thing that people discuss on the internet because there's nothing to analyse or argue about. A bunch of writers may or may not include, say, a native of Brighton to tell you the names of the poshest and toughest parts of town - but it's not a bad place to start. Writers are a fairly well-read lot, after all, with... Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 22:43
  • ...diverse interests and diverse friends who they might be able to rope in to help. They also just love activities that divert them from writing! I'll keep your offer in mind if ever one of my characters goes to Michigan ;-) Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 22:47

Check out the forums at National Novel Writing Month's site. It looks like they've reorganized things since I've participated, but the Reference Desk forum is probably where you can ask stuff like that. Of course, it's most populated during NaNoWriMo (November), but the site's up all year.

  • Another great resource, thank you. Looking at the introductory page, I've also found out about the "Appellation Station" for finding character names appropriate to different nations and eras. Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 23:50

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