Birds sailing boats – how much to justify?

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I wrote a story in which birds were sailing a warship. It made perfect sense in my head and the writing was up to my usual standards. So I submitted it to a magazine.

The rejection I got was a good one. Positive about my writing and the story while pointing out the things the editor didn’t think worked. Among the she they raised was a question – why would birds bother with a boat?

Captain Beaky tries to work out how to work a rudder without hands
Captain Beaky ponders how to work a rudder without hands

It’s not a stupid question, and it’s not like I didn’t have answers. But I have to admit, there was a certain extent to which that was just the basis of my fantasy and everything flowed from there.

When writing fantasy you always have some point of departure, some way in which your world differs from reality. It’s good for it to make sense, but how far do you need to go in justifying the change? Do you work out how dragons evolved? The astrophysics of your hexagonal planet? The genetics that allows humans and orcs to make little baby half-orcs?

To an extent it’s probably a matter of taste. But how far do you like an author to go, or do you like to go in your own writing? Are you willing to accept a couple of big unexplained differences, or do you need it all justified? Help a poor struggling author to work out where he stands.