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On Writing Spike

When I was first asked to write an essay on writing Spike for this archive, my first response was, "Are you high? You know I only ever read and write Spuffy fic, right?" But then hold_that_thought said something or other about how good Spike characterization transcends 'ship preferences, blah blah blah, and I had the good sense to recognize the compliment and feel honored. And so, since at least one person has asked for it, here is my take on what makes for a good Spike.

Character Traits

For starters, he's British.

Wait, what's that? "Duh," you say?


Everyone who will read your fic already knows that he has a British accent, as well as what it sounds like. They don't need to be helped along by an overabundance of apostrophes and dropped letters. The exceptions are likely to be people from non-English speaking countries who get the show with dubbed in voices instead of subtitles, but any phonetic "help" you provide is only going to leave those poor sods even more confused anyway. But more on that later.

It's good to remember that he's a Brit who has been thoroughly immersed in American culture. Specifically, he spent the last six years (give or take) in SoCal, spending the majority of his time with young people who speak primarily in a pastiche of pop culture references, metaphors, and pseudo-Valley-speak; but even before that, I think it's safe to assume that he spent a good deal of time in the States. We know for a fact that he spent some time in New York in the late 1970s (and even earlier - he was here for Woodstock). In his first appearance ever, he drove a classic American car, wore classic American jeans, and smoked American cigarettes. So try to resist the temptation to make him too British. He's lived here enough years to qualify for citizenship; he's allowed to use Americanisms in his speech.

Anybody else think that Spike might've been a much more effective villain, if only he'd had some Ritalin? Seriously, he's practically a poster boy for ADHD - emphasis on the H. The nervous energy, the constant sense that he's coiled up like a spring ready to be sprung, the impulsiveness, the addictive/obsessive tendencies… I could write an entire thesis on canonical evidence for making such a diagnosis, but I don't really have room to go into it all here. The point is, I tend to appreciate fics that acknowledge this in subtle ways, i.e. constant pacing and fidgeting, drumming his fingers, singing under his breath, an abhorrence for waiting around ("I got bored!"), etc. Of course, some of these traits are balanced out by his being a vampire. He's learned how to wait when he has to, how to be still, how to keep quiet and pay close attention when necessary, because these are things a predator must do to survive; but these things don't come easy for him.

For me, one of the most critical elements of good Spike characterization is to remember that he is, indeed, "Love's Bitch." He doesn't fall in love easily, and once he's there it's even harder for him to stop loving someone. In the words of Whedon himself, "I don't think [Spike]'s the kind of guy that would be like, 'Well, that was a fun time with Buffy...'." Also, it took him two years to get over Drusilla. And while I think that Harmony, Anyanka, and BuffyBot can all attest that he's not above getting his jollies elsewhere if he has to, anything deeper than a physical relationship is going to require a significant build-up if you want it to be believable.

But the real key to Spike? At his core, he's someone who never gives up. He doesn't quit, doesn't accept that things are impossible or hopeless. When he gets knocked down he never stays down for long - and he's been through some pretty damn low places. Spike is not someone who'll waste a lot of time on self-flagellation or wishing for things to be different. He's a man of action - someone who'll go to great lengths to change a bad situation, even if that means changing himself. Keep in mind one of the first things we were ever told about him (in School Hard):

Angel: Once [Spike] starts something he doesn't stop until everything in his path is dead.
Xander: Hmm. So, he's thorough, goal-oriented.

In six years, this aspect of his character has never changed. Okay, well, maybe the "everything in his path" getting dead part; but otherwise? Dogged determination, thy name is Spike.

Physical Traits

Please excuse me while I go through the basics. I don't mean to insult anybody's intelligence or keen powers of observation, but when I recall all of the fics I've seen that actually get some of this stuff wrong, it makes me want to cry. But if you know all this already, feel free to skip this section.

So. He's about 5'10" - tall enough when standing next to Buffy, but by no means the official definition of tall.

He has bleached hair - something else that, like his accent, your readers already know, so there is no need to constantly point this out to them. Although James Marsters's natural hair color is dark brown, we've been shown that Spike's is a much lighter shade of dark blond. Also, it's curly.

His eyes are blue. And while we're on the subject, do you know what a good word for blue is? Blue! Believe it or not, using this word to describe his eye color will not make anybody think less of your creativity. On the flip side, however, using every word in a Crayola box but plain ol' blue just might have some readers rolling their eyes and suspect that you might be trying too hard. Not that a little variety is a bad thing, mind you.

Other things to note: the famous scar is on his left eyebrow; he hasn't worn any nail polish, black or otherwise, since Season 5; those famous motorcycle boots he's always worn are not and have never been Doc Martens; also? He's left handed.

And he has never, ever, not even once, cried tears of blood.

Spike Speak

I should point out that I'm writing this essay from the perspective of a reader as well as a writer; so a lot of this bit is going to be full of things that tend to bug me when I read Spike fic, as well as things I've seen other readers complain about and/or mock. If you don't want your Spike to be mocked in somebody's badfic thread, take heed.

Writing the accent - don't do it. Like I said up top, it isn't necessary, and it doesn't really add anything to the story or even to the characterization. Usually, it only proves distracting and difficult to read - doubly so if your apostrophes and emphases don't match up to the ones in your readers' heads. Don't feel too bad; writing accents and dialects phonetically is just generally a bad idea for most writers, even most big-time professional writers. Very few people can do it well, and then usually only after lots and lots of practice.

If you have practiced and are convinced that you are indeed one of those few, you would still do well to remember that a little goes a long way. A few strategically placed contractions and the occasional dropped G are enough to make your point, adding just enough flavor to the dialogue without over seasoning it.

But even better would be just to get the rhythm right. Spike's dialogue has a pretty unique cadence, which is often accomplished best just by leaving out words (usually articles or pronouns - often when revising my own fic, I go through and delete the first word from a lot of his sentences, especially every sentence beginning with "I" or "the").

Some examples from the text (missing words inserted by me, in brackets):

(From Fool for Love):

BUFFY: You got off on it.
SPIKE: Well, yeah. [I] Suppose you're telling me you don't? How many of my kind, [you] reckon you've done?

[The] Problem with you, Summers, is [that] you've gotten so good, you're starting to think you're immortal.

BUFFY: How'd you kill the second one?
SPIKE: [A] Bit like this.

BUFFY: That didn't hurt?"
SPIKE: [I] Knew I couldn't touch you.

(From Life Serial)

GREEN DEMON: You're lucky today, Spike.
SPIKE: [I've] Got my good-luck charm with me.

(From Smashed)

SPIKE: If you're lying to me-
WARREN: No! It's all right here. I, I mean, it is. It's really not that hard to figure out, if you just... (sees Spike frowning) What?

Spike frowns, ponders deeply. Gives a small smile. Looks at Warren.

SPIKE: [If] You tell anyone about this...

The most obvious advice is also the best: listen. But not only that. Read. Read the scripts (or the transcripts - sometimes the omitted words are James's contributions and actually show up in the shooting scripts; you're looking to see how Spike sounds, not how he was originally written), and find a fic author who gives good Spike voice (Nautibitz, for one, writes fabulous Spike voice. Devilpiglet's is also right on the money) and read their work. That way you'll get it both visually and aurally, which should make the rhythm easier to reproduce.

Something else that helps me is to keep in mind moments from the show that epitomize certain of Spike's moods: the famous "Love's Bitch" speech for frustrated, angry and/or broken Spike (or more recently, the crypt monologue from Seeing Red); for sweetness I usually refer back to the staircase scene (from The Gift or After Life - either works) or the bedroom scene from Touched; and any number of moments that capture various degrees of Sexy Spike. Those are mine. Feel free to use them, or pick your own. But study them. Learn the tone, the look on his face, his physical movements (the head tilts!), the pitch and tone of his voice. Memorize them, and use them as a reference when writing a scene that depicts Spike in a similar mood. Don't copy them exactly, mind you. The goal is to match the tone.

Cor blimey! Spike's not a Cockney! So don't make him speak like one. Just because an expression is listed at London Slang doesn't mean he'd ever use it. As far as British swearing goes, you're safest using expressions he's actually used on the show, and combinations thereof. Plus, I firmly believe that, were it not for network censors and FCC regulations (neither of which fanfic writers have to contend with), Spike would also have a pretty extensive repertoire of American curse words, most of them consisting of variations on "fuck."

On the other hand, Spike's a creative guy, and doesn't tend to use nicknames - especially those meant as insults - more than once (this doesn't apply to pet names and terms of endearment, i.e. Pet, Red, Nibblet, etc.). As for example? "Peaches." Spike called Angel this exactly one time, ever, in "Lover's Walk." Yet according to fanon (that is, things that are used so often in fanfic that they become mistaken for canon), it's practically the only thing Spike ever calls Angel. In truth, he's called Angel many and varied things over the years, and has never used the same nickname or insult more than once. So be creative! Spike puts a lot of thought into his name-calling. You owe it to him to do the same.

Here endeth my lesson on writing Spike. Of course, everybody has their own unique take on the character, so feel free to tailor the "what to do" bits to match your own vision. As for the "what not to do" parts, ignore those at your own peril. But if you've read this far, then chances are that you're someone who really cares about good characterization. As long as that's the case, you're already off to an excellent start. Good luck, and happy writing!

Copyright Tania 2003-2004
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