Reality Meets Shapeshifter Fantasy

October 29, 2008 at 6:24 am (Larissa Ione)

Fiction writers work in a realm of fantasy – as authors, we can do what we want, right?  Well, there’s that little thing about believability that gets in the way…but where is the line drawn?


When I was working on the Demonica series, one of the fantastical elements I had to deal with was shapeshifter rules.  I have all kinds of shifters I had to make rules for, but in this case, I was working on my demons.


See, my Seminus demons (the heroes in the series) can shift into other demon species, but it didn’t make sense that they should be able to shift into ANY species.  The Sems are man-sized (okay, BIG man-sized *g*), and their purpose in life is to impregnate other species in order to populate the world with Seminus demons (there are no female Sems).


To me, it seemed logical that since the females of other species would be giving birth to babies approximately the size of human babies, the females must be able to handle it.


For example, it’s dangerous for a sheltie to give birth to puppies if the father is a German shepherd.  I figured the same rules should apply to my demons.  So they can’t shift into smaller species, and they can only go about twice as large (it also didn’t make sense that they could get REALLY huge, because where would the mass come from?  Cells can only stretch so much, right?)


My husband just rolls his eyes.  His comment?  “You know, this is a fantastical world – if you want your demons to be able to shift into mouse-sized creatures, they can.”


No, they can’t.  In my world, it isn’t logical.  No matter how fantastical something is, there are certain realities I just have a hard time dismissing.


I remember watching The Day After Tomorrow with my husband, and there came a point in the disaster movie where some wolves broke free from the zoo and attacked some people on a ship that had frozen in the streets of New York City.  I went ballistic.  It made no sense!  First of all, wolves don’t behave like that, second, how did they get on the ship, and third, if they were that hungry, there were freshly dead people all over the place they could have eaten.


My husband looked at me like I was a moron.  “The fact that giant anti-hurricanes formed instantly and are destroying the earth on an impossible scale doesn’t bother you, but hungry wolves do?”


Yes.  Because I can suspend my disbelief for something that is totally out of the realm of possibility, but altering something REAL with no explanation just tweaks every logical bone in my body.  So when I was writing my shifters, I knew it was all fiction and fantasy…but some laws I just couldn’t break – such as the size thing.  (Though let me be clear – in someone else’s world, the size thing might work, but in my world, where size is an issue for breeding, it didn’t.)


Other people have other hot buttons, and some have none.  Which are you?  Can you pretty much suspend your disbelief for anything (providing the world is built well,) or are there certain things you just can’t look past?  If the author tells you the sky on another planet is red, do you accept it, or do you want to know why it’s red?



  1. Lea said,

    Hi Larissa:

    Thank you for your explanation with respect to the demons in your “Demonica” world. When I am reading paranormal or science fiction work I have to say as long as the writer has crafted strong characters and woven them into an exciting storyline I am flexible regarding suspending belief. I do have certain hot buttons with respect to medical issues because I have decades of experience in that professional arena so can ferret out discrepancies quite quickly. But when the author is talking about a different species then I don’t get too critical of anatomy issues etc.

    I think the bottom line is, as long as the story flows well within the world created, and the characters are strong, grabbing a reader off the page and not letting go, what more can one ask for? IMHO you achieved those expectations with “Pleasure Unbound”. 🙂

    Best Regards

  2. Crystal Dee said,

    Oooohh good post Larissa. My imagination is boundless so if you can figure out a way for it to happen my brain will pretty much soak it right up. I did love to here that you put that much thought into the birthing complications of your characters. After all, we come to love them.

    As for the wolf thing in “The Day After Tomorrow”, it kind of bothered me too. (If you read many shapeshifter books you will find lots of links to wildlife preservation societies on author websites. Authors tend to love the animals that their characters turn into.)I reasoned that although presumably the wolves were well fed and cared for, the sudden extreme drop in temperature would cause their metabolisms into overdrive to sustain their body temperatures. This of course would cause extreme hunger much more frequently and much stronger than normal. Furthermore the wolves might be smart enough to realize that they would be one of the few species able to survive, they would feel an urgency to eat and enable themseles to travel to a warmer climate where prey would be available and not in popsicle form. I’m no expert so that may just be mularky but it is an example of my brain’s ability to suspend reason in the sake of believing what it wants to.

  3. azteclady said,

    Yes, yes, yes, YES

    Oh man, that kind of stuff drives me nuts–in tv shows, movies, books. If the fantastic world coexists, to whatever extent, with the real world, then at least some of the basic rules of reality have to be observed. And in fact, the better the writer is at using reality to cement the fantastic, the more I can suspend my disbelief and buy the entire show. Book. You know.

    😀 Not that I’m anal or anything…

  4. Teresa D'Amario said,

    LOL my husband just shook his head and said the wolves in the movie didn’t like freezer burn – they wanted HOT dead meat. LOL. Seriously I had problems with that scene myself. It did nothing for wolves as a species in the eyes of the world, and only enhanced their historical fears of the beast. Ahh such is life.

    I do find it amusing how far authors go to make things more realistic in romance, yet hollywood throws it out with the bath water, and does whatever they can to make things look kewl. So yeah, that really is one of my hot buttons. But that’s more of an author hot button as opposed to a reader/movie watcher hot button.

  5. Karin said,

    Larissa, I’m definitely with you on there needing to be some rules. There are just some things that are too far beyond belief for me to enjoy the story being told. Stuff like the wolves in The Day After Tomorrow is just too jarring and ruins the rest of the story being told. I mean, if I’m cruising along enjoying a story and then something jars me out of the world being created or the story being told, I just can’t get back into it and I won’t enjoy it.

  6. Hilcia said,

    Yes, that is a great post, and one that makes sense to me. I have a great imagination and can go with the flow. However, for me the world building in fantasy has to make sense, otherwise its a free for all, and sooner or later I will not suspend disbelief. If the main characters are in a planet made out of salt, with a red sky; then I need to know at some point some information that will make me believe this is #1 possible, #2 why it is possible. No long explanation necessary…. after that, I’m fine, thank you. Certainly in the shapeshifting world, where animals are often used, rules need apply IMO — that’s a hot button for me personally.

  7. Marcia said,

    I can believe almost anything as long as there is logical sense behind it. That means structuring it into the story.

    It also depends on what we’re talking about, too. Tell me the sky is red (assuming we’re on another planet or another realm) and I’ll believe it. If it happens here, then I’ll need an explanation. Tell me that cats are chasing dogs and ripping them apart for food and I’ll need more than “because I said so”.

  8. Ann M. said,

    I loved reading your “rules” for your world. I agree about shifting into something small.. it doesn’t make sense. 🙂 Eagerly waiting for more Demonica books

  9. Ali said,

    ha, Larissa, I loved your post, lol
    Me, well, I can pretty much believe anything… probably why I still look for Santa, lol j/k. I want to say that I have read a book where they expected me to believe a bit too much, but I can’t remember which book or what title, sorry.
    omg, movies don’t tend to bother me too much, either, but yeah, that part you’re talking about in The Day After Tomorrow did bother me.

  10. Lou Gagliardi said,

    Vampires are my pet peeves. Mainly in the movies. See, I’m a big fan of Stoker, and Le Fanu–the good ole fashioned vampires that feared religious icons and mirrors, and could be out in the day, but their powers were weak.

    Then along came the movies, and Anne Rice–and everything turned on its head. Modern romance writers don’t bother me in this regard because they at least explain their worlds, and it makes sense. Anne Rice, and Hollywood, in my opinion, were looking for the easy way out.

    And, as the Son of the Son of the Dragon ( meaning the great x 5-8 grandson of Dracula–its a long, long story), it irks me.

  11. Savanna Kougar said,

    I have to agree about the wolves attacking nonsensically like that. That would have driven me nuts, unless a real reason had been given
    When I create a world, I want to explain why the sky is red, because it has to do with people of that world, the why and how of their culture, and, thus the why and how of my characters.
    We, as humans, are of Earth, just as Earth is also, of us.

  12. Larissa Ione said,

    *waving to everyone*

    Sounds like we’re all pretty much on the same page! 🙂

    It’s funny though, how different some of our hot buttons can be! Mine usually have to do with animals…as you can probably tell! *g*

  13. Rae said,

    Hey, Larissa, I just want to commend you on keeping those ‘rules’ because I think they made Pleasure Unbound fantastic. I think little familiar details like the ones you mention ground the fiction for us in a world we can understand and make it that much easier to transport us there. 🙂 And I completely agree, when reading a paranormal, there are certain, unspoken expectations that I will suspend disbelief thus far, enough to believe in demons or vampires or what have you, but let’s not tamper with reality too much. I think after a certain point, it just confuses the reader when there’s no frame of reference or no expectations for a world.

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