Sometime last autumn I discovered SyFy’s special effects show ‘Face Off‘. This reality competition sets a group of contestants against each other in a bid to become the best special effects artist of the bunch. Whilst gripping, it’s also a fantastic resource for fantasy writers, especially if you’re feeling a little off your game.
Everyone needs inspiration now and then, and writers glean most of this from everyday life. Stories create themselves from circumstances we found ourselves in, a picture we’ve seen or perhaps a conversation we’ve overheard in the supermarket. If you’ve read any of my books, then you’ll know that I have a very descriptive style, bringing scenes to life by carefully creating the right ambiance and backdrop for my characters. But with that comes the need to have visual stimuli and inspiration too, and this is where Face Off is limitless.
Each week the contestants have a new challenge. This can be from creating a goblin king for a fantasy land, developing an age make-up for a set of triplets or making up an entirely new alien race from a specific world that they’ve been given. Special effects legends including Ve Neill (Hunger Games, Amazing Spider Man, John Carter), Glenn Hetrick (Chronicles of Riddick, Heroes, Angel) and Michael Westmore (Star Trek) offer input and ultimately make the decision of who stays and who leaves. A nice thing about the show is that, on the whole, the contestants get on and help each other out if needed, so as a viewer we get to see awesome fantasy creations without the bitchiness and backstabbing that so often comes hand-in-hand with reality television.
Fantasy writers can have a hard time of creating new characters and describing them just enough so that readers can formulate their own picture. Unlike film and television, we don’t offer visual impact other than our descriptive passages and narrative, so it’s up to the reader to use their own imagination to construct the characters in their minds. However, I find that I do need some visual inspiration when creating an alien species or creature for my writing, and a few quirks from Face Off can send my imagination racing. What if that headdress was embellished? What if that elongated jaw was drawn into this contortion?
So, if you’re feeling a little off colour when it comes to visualising your characters or creations, sit down and watch a couple of Face Off episodes. It could offer just the ingredient to get your imagination bubbling again.