Emmie (angearia) wrote,

Spike's Voice: Losing the Forest for the Trees

Sometimes I find myself reading a fic and unconsciously editing character’s speech as I go. It’s annoying and I still haven’t been able to find the switch in my head to stop auto-beta’ing, but anyways… It happens and because it happens, it's prompted this meta on Spike's Voice. Spike is one of the most complex characters in terms of speech style simply because there’s so many layers, so many balls to juggle in order to do his character justice, to truly capture his voice.

Spike has interesting Voice ticks that define his character, make him stand out in ways unique to the more popularly understood Buffyverse linguistics. Buffy and the Scoobies all share a common Scooby-speak heritage—they’re in the same Voice family—while Spike is something else. He’s unique in that he has his very own Voice style that is purely his.  But then, we already knew he was special, right?

Spike’s Voice Characteristics

Nicknames. Creative nicknames. And while he repeats a few popular ones, he’s more likely to create new ones. The popular endearments of “love” and “pet” are most common.

“Eyeballs to entrails, my sweet.” Halloween

“The poor little twig can’t keep a man. Gets her all down.” Checkpoint

“Just getting what I came for, love.” Gone

Sniping and mockery.  As the outsider of outsiders and one who prides himself on being evil, Spike's always interested in mocking others for his own amusement (and to bolster his sensitive ego).

“Someone wasn’t worthy.” Becoming Part I

“I love syphilis more than you.” Harsh Light of Day

“Caesar’s not saying ‘I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.” Pangs

Grammatically fragmented speech. Commonly dropping pronouns, but also inversion of the usual order of a sentence.

“Order of Taraka’ll take care of the Slayer.” What’s My Line Part I

“Hold the torch, would you?” Beneath You

Britishisms. Brit words that are used in Spike’s vocabulary.

"A blood guest in my bloody home!" Passion

“Bloody hell! Sodding, blimey, shagging, knickers, bollocks, oh God! I'm English!” Tabula Rasa

The tack-on qualifier. When “Yeah” and “then” and “what” and “right” are used for emphasis.

“It was the best night of my life. So, yeah. I’m terrified.” End of Days

“That works out nicely then.” Flooded “What, I was helping!” Doomed

Short, declarative statements. This works well with the practice of dropping the pronoun.

“New plan! We split up. You go that way.” The Initiative

“Thrashings for all.” Real Me

“Lei-ach demon. Fun little buggers. Big with the marrow-sucking.” Family

“Right. You want to learn all about how I bested the Slayers and you want to learn fast. Right, then. We fought. I won. The end. Pay up.” Fool For Love

Poetic turns of phrase.  Spike's a bloody awful poet, through and through.  And even though he knows he's bad at it, it's still the heart of him.

“You're all I bloody think about. Dream about. You're in my gut ... my throat ... I'm drowning in you, Summers, I'm drowning in you.” Crush

"Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace." Fool For Love

“We band of buggered.” The Gift

“Great love is wild and passionate and dangerous. It burns and consumes.” Seeing Red

“She shall look on him with forgiveness, and everybody will forgive and love. He will be loved. So everything's okay, right? Can--can we rest now? Buffy...can we rest?” Beneath You

These ticks are good to be aware of; they’re essential to recreating Spike’s voice when writing. But—but—Spike also speaks straight, sometimes.  He's not always doing verbally unique acrobatics.  Every sentence of his doesn’t need to hit these ticks every time he opens his mouth. To me, overdoing it is just as bad as underdoing it. Maybe even more so because overdoing it turns Spike into a caricature of himself.  (In this case, a verbal caricature puppet where as in the case of IDW's comics he's a caricature of himself based upon the characteristics they've dialed up to the power of 11).

When you overdo the ‘grammatically fragmented speech’, Spike no longer sounds like Spike—he sounds like friggin’ Yoda. “Didn’t know what to do, then. Jumped the track, she did. Around the world and back, she ran. Force, she used. Did it well, she did.” Too many of these inverted sentences peppered through a Spike POV or dialogue in a scene and they start to detract.

Overdoing nicknames is just as equally annoying. When every other line has Spike calling Buffy “Slayer” or “love” or “pet” instead of just using her given name (yes, Spike calls her by name!), the nicknames start to lose meaning. Overusing doesn’t equate to overemphasizing—overusing doesn’t imbue a word with more meaning, but instead lessens the impact of the endearment (or insult). And if repeated nicknames are annoying, such verbal ticks as “right” and “then” and “yeah” and “what” are like throwing too many bits of cabbage in a toss salad until all you’ve got is bits of cabbage that you didn’t really want anyways. Just like nicknames, these words are used for emphasis—overusing them diminishes their usefulness.

Another overused tick—dropping the pronoun “I” from Spike’s speech. Spike says “I” a lot (no, really.  Just scan for “I” statements here at Buffyverse Dialogue Database.  Going by some of the fic I've read, you'd think Spike had forgotten how to refer to himself while speaking). All his sentences don’t need to be “Didn’t know what to think, didn’t know how to feel about it.”—they can be “I didn’t know what to think. I-I didn’t how to feel about it.” The best example I can think of which uses the word “I” is his declaration to Buffy in The Gift: “I know you’ll never love me. I know I’m just a monster. But you treat me like a man.” Now imagine it with the overused tick: “Know you’ll never love me. Know I’m just a monster. But you treat me like a man.” Dropping the “I” diminishes the power of his statement, stripping the lines of self-awareness and inherent poetry. It’s more about a balance—the pronoun doesn’t disappear completely but flits in and out. “Neither do I. I can't say 'sorry'. Can't use 'forgive me'. All I can say is: Buffy, I've changed.” Beneath You

Spike is a brawler poet. He’s a mixture of formal and informal, so overusing certain ticks takes away from his more formal style of poetic speech he also employs (e.g. “There’s a hole in the world. Feels like we ought to have known.” Hole in the World). There’s a balance to turning the phrase and making it all about Spike (this balance is often dictated by the mood of the moment). Don’t overuse, but rather subtly combine. For example: “Lesson the second: ask the right questions” from Fool For Love is both a short, declarative statement and a poetic turn of phrase. Even some of the examples I posted above qualify in more than one category: “We band of buggered” is both poetic and a Britishism. “Just getting what I came for, love” is both a fragmented sentence and use of a nickname. They go together seamlessly, fitting just right.

Even Britishisms can be overdone—Spike’s a British vampire whose lived over one hundred and twenty years. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s lived the majority of his life in countries other than England and absorbed and grown beyond just the British way of speaking. I have a French friend studying in America and when he calls home people remark on how his accent has changed. Heck, I switch between a hint of Midwestern twang and a Southern drawl depending on who I’m speaking to and where I’m at—it comes and goes. Just as Spike’s speech evolved from the formal British of his William days into his rougher Spike accent he put on, it’s no doubt also changed through all the time he’s spent in America (which is to say in meta terms that Spike is a British character being written by Americans, so there’s a lot of ‘American’ style in his speech, but this also correlates within the context of Spike’s character evolution).

These verbal ticks are like spices of flavor in Spike’s speech. Anyone writing Spike (including me) is trying to achieve this balance between too much and too little, always hoping to land it just right. It’s quite the high-wire juggling act, but then I guess we all love writing Spike because he’s delightfully complex.
Tags: meta, spike, writing
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