Giles Character Essay.
written by Gileswench
So you want to write Gilesfic. You've picked a fascinating character to write about. He's a man full of contradictions and mystery. He has little patience for most modern culture, yet he loves television game shows. He has difficulty expressing emotion, yet his feelings clearly run deep. He's extremely intelligent, yet he can be foolhardy, thoughtless, and even clueless. He is the very model of patience, but when he loses his temper, he is frighteningly violent. And his behavior toward the Scoobies in the fourth, sixth, and seventh seasons - and even in the first episode of the fifth season - is wildly passive-aggressive. He claims to want their respect, affection, and attention, yet he turns them deliberately away and refuses reasonable requests for help from several of them.
So how does one pull all these disparate elements together in one character? Well, it does help that we have Anthony Stewart Head's virtuoso acting talents to envision in our minds. For seven seasons, he made even the most unexpected aspects of Giles' character look plausible to the audience.
But we don't have Mr. Head to read our lines or act out our fight scenes. We don't have his expressive eyes and inherent warmth to flesh out what we write on the page. That means we have to make our audience see and hear what we write by keeping the character clear for our readers.
So, how do we do that?
We use the information doled out to us over seven seasons and the habits given the character by both the writers and Mr. Head himself. We use the history the writers created for Giles. We use the clues provided, and our own imaginations to fill in the blanks.
What do we know of Giles' history?
The answer is: not much.
We know that he's from England. We know that he was ten years old when he learned he was to be a Watcher when he grew up, no matter what he wanted for himself, like his father and paternal grandmother before him. We know that, at the age of ten, he was considering a career as either a fighter pilot or a grocer. We know he went to Oxford university. We know that at age twenty-one, he ran away from Oxford. We know that during this period of rebellion, he was involved with a group including Ethan Rayne. We know they raised the demon Eyghon for kicks. We know that during one of these possession parties, one of the group - Randall - was killed. We know that before he came to Sunnydale, he's rumored to have been a museum curator. We know he's a world renowned authority on strange antiquities - but only large museums seem to know that. We know that when he left Sunnydale at the beginning of Season six, he lived in a flat in Bath, but by the start of Season seven, he seems to live in a farmhouse in the English countryside.
That's really not a lot to know about a man in his forties.
We don't know if his parents are alive or dead, or what his relationship with them is/was. We don't know if he has any siblings. We don't know if he's ever been married, if he has children, nieces or nephews, uncles, aunts, cousins, or friends in England outside of the Watcher's Council. We don't know where, how, or even when he met Olivia - or why he talked to her about monsters and why she didn't believe him when he did.
That means all of this is fair game to play with. That's rich mining for a writer.
What do we know of Giles' nature?
Here, we have a lot more clues to play with, but some of them are oddly contradictory.
We know he's a deeply private man, who loves tradition, but the apartment he rented in Sunnydale has an extremely open floorplan, and virtually no traditional elements to it. His bedroom is on clear view, since it's a sleeping loft. There's no dining room - or even dining area - only a breakfast bar that doubles as a passthrough from the kitchenette. And while much of his furniture is of a classic Arts and Crafts style, several of the personal touches in the main room are quirky and terribly whimsical. For instance, his clock is in the shape of a huge wristwatch. That's hardly traditional.
And despite his deep-seated love of privacy, Giles never locks his front door - even, apparently, when he's entertaining a pretty woman in his bed. After all, in The Freshman, Buffy sailed in Giles' door to find Olivia wearing only a man's dress shirt, and Giles in a robe and pajama bottoms. She didn't use a key. She just walked in. If they had still been in bed, Buffy might have gotten a working demonstration of what a stevedore is right then and there, precluding her need to ask later in the season.
Why would a man who refuses almost all openings to discuss his personal affairs leave the front door unlocked while he's having sex? Especially when his bed is on clear display the instant anyone walks in the door.
Somehow, you as the author must find a way to reconcile this truly odd behavior, the choices that don't seem at first to fit.
You must also find a way to explain why, when he acted as a vital member of the gang in the first three seasons - not only as Buffy's Watcher, but also as a friend to them (organizing Buffy's surprise birthday party in Surprise, helping her study for the SAT's, comforting the Scoobies when they lost a favorite teacher) and then seemed to try to alternately push them away and sulk that they were ignoring him for most of the rest of the series.
Is he simply hurt and resentful that he seems to get little attention from the Scoobies when there isn't a crisis to be handled, or is it something more? It's your job to decide that, and tell us in a way that we'll believe.
But no matter how inconsistent Giles' behavior is in some ways, there are also eternal verities of Gilesness that we all can use to keep the character recognizable to our readers. With a liberal dose of these behaviors, your Giles will come across to the reader as the man we know and love from the series.
Sarcasm: Giles is gifted with a biting sense of sarcastic humor. It's one of the things that remains the same about Giles no matter what. And the snark only gets more intense as he gets more impatient with the behavior of the person he's talking to. Whether he's trading barbs with Principal Snyder or trying to get the Scoobies back on track with research, he fumes, then comes out with some blistering remark that makes us all laugh.
But frustration is not the only emotion that brings out the sarcasm. He uses the sarcasm when he's bored, when he wants to lighten an emotionally heavy moment, and even as a form of courtship. His two canon lovers also had deeply sarcastic senses of humor, and Buffy and Xander have cajoled him out of more than one funk by appealing to his sarcasm, as well.
So, whether you're writing romance, smut, angst, sillyfic, action, whatever genre you've chosen, be sure to let Giles be sarcastic. If he isn't, he isn't Giles.
The stutter: I know this is a pain to write, but it's also an interesting window into Giles' comfort level. The more comfortable he is, the less he stutters. And by the same token, the less comfortable he is in a situation, the more he stutters. Well before they'd graduated high school, he'd almost entirely stopped stuttering around the Scoobies. He's comfortable with them. He knows they accept him unconditionally. He doesn't stutter with Olivia, or with Ethan. But when he practices asking Jenny out, using a library chair as his practice Jenny, he can hardly get a sentence out at all. When he has to deliver bad news to Buffy, he sometimes has a great deal of trouble spitting it out.
Anger, however, rarely triggers the stutter. In fact, he becomes quite eloquent when physical danger or righteous fury are involved. It's as if danger and anger are the things he's most comfortable with. They bring out the best in him over and over again in the series. Interesting.
Loneliness: one thing that never quite changes about Giles is the sense that he's a man apart. He's a stranger in a strange land, brought to America not by choice, but by duty. He seems to have few - if any - friends around his own age in Sunnydale. In the heat and casual atmosphere of southern California, he deliberately wore three piece tweed suits for nearly half his stay. This tells us his distance is not entirely accidental.
The tweed comes to be almost a shield, in a way, as do sloppy sweaters later in the series, when he goes through a period of deliberately distancing himself from the Scoobies. The one time he seemed truly comfortable and willing to be part of the life he had to lead was Season Five. Significantly, in that season, his clothing became more formal than in Season Four, consisting largely of business suits and casual outfits of better-fitted sweaters and nice slacks, but also just on the edge of trendy. He typically wore his grey pinstripe suit with a white shirt that had grey pinstripes and grey collar and cuffs. Compare that to S1-3 Giles in his tweed suits - often worn with the sort of sweater vests that get little boys beaten up on the playground. But in Season Six he reverts to sloppy sweaterman, and never (alas!) recovers.
Significantly, Season five is the time when he has the most adult relationship with the Scoobies en masse. Suddenly, albeit temporarily, the armor drops away. Maybe all he needs is simply to know he's loved and wanted, in addition to needed.
Giles loves books: This should be a no-brainer, but I've seen it ignored in stories where I would have expected to see it used. And the books he loves aren't just his beloved dusty, musty tomes of prophecy and demon lore. He also has shown some fondness for fine literature. He loans Jenny his father's first edition EM Forster novel (author's note: some have claimed that the book was written by CS Forrester, who penned the Horatio Hornblower series, but I find it difficult to imagine Jenny referring to a rollicking high seas adventure as 'romantic and evocative'. EM Forster wrote such romantic, evocative, Merchant Ivory classics as A Passage to India, A Room With A View, and Maurice, and therefore strikes me as a far more likely choice.), and considers Emily Dickinson a pretty good poet...for an American.
Clearly, books of multiple sorts appeal to Giles. Don't be afraid to have him reference a novel or a poem.
Giles is English: Again, this should be obvious, but isn't always used very well in fic. In fact, Giles is a very specific sort of Englishman. He's well-educated, snobbish in peculiar ways that don't always make sense, and inclined to a sort of formality that went the way of the dodo with the end of the Raj. In many ways, he's as much a stranger in our time as he is in our country. He's a man out of place, out of time, and out of the mainstream wherever he goes. But he's obviously proud of being English. He prefers English literature, English food, English ways of doing things. But I get the feeling he doesn't belong in England anymore than he does in Southern California. Still, there's no denying the man is English to the core.
Whimsy: This is something that often gets overlooked about Giles, but he's a very whimsical person. The sarcasm is easy to spot, but the whimsy is always there. You can see it in little things like the wristwatch clock in his apartment or his scary ode to Halloween in Season 4, and in bigger things like his sudden decision out of nowhere to buy out the Magic Box while investigating the death of the owner. He takes sudden fancies to things, and delights in strange oddities. There's a sense of wonder to Giles that is almost never used in fanfic. Remember how excited he used to get about a new creature to research? That eagerness is still buried in him, waiting for another way to express itself.
Ruthlessness: For all his whimsy and gentleness and desperate need for validation, Giles has a coldness to him, too. If you doubt that, watch The Gift again. Not only does he order Buffy to kill her little sister - the only family she has left since her father's abandonment and her mother's death - he acts as Ben's executioner literally with his own hand. He knows that saving the world occasionally requires some very dirty work, and he's willing to do it himself.
Most of us would like to ignore or forget this aspect of Giles, but it's there. It doesn't go away. He's taken human life. He's done it efficiently, carefully, and precisely. When you're writing Giles, don't forget the dark side. He can't.
Physical quirks: Giles has an interesting set of gestures he uses to indicate frustration, anger, affection, etc. Watch him carefully. Even when he's not saying something, you really can tell what's going on in Giles' head and heart most of the time through his eyes and body language. He rubs the back of his neck when he's getting ready to lose his temper. He slumps when he feels he's not being useful in solving a problem, he pinches his nose under his glasses when he's frustrated, and he cleans his glasses with his handkerchief when he's embarrassed. He leans in doorways. He busies himself with some pointless trifle when he wants to let someone know how much he doesn't care about them and their problems. And never, ever forget that he's left handed.
Music: Giles is a music lover. He plays guitar, and that Victrola in his apartment wasn't there just for decoration. And he's fond of - at minimum - lightweight classical (I doubt Angelus brought his own copy of La Boheme to play in Passion. He probably if you'll excuse the term - had his hands full with Jenny's body, the wine, the glasses, and all those roses) and classic British rock of the Seventies. In The Real Me, Giles had his car radio tuned to a classical station. In Band Candy, he played Cream's Tales of Brave Ulysses for Joyce. In Where The Wild Things Are, he played The Who's Behind Blue Eyes at The EspressoPump. In Hush, he and Olivia share a glass of wine while listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album.
So if you're looking for songfic inspiration, or just want Giles to be listening to some music in your fic, think about British bands of the Seventies, with a slightly psychedelic edge to them. From what we've seen of his tastes, I would expect him to also have some early David Bowie, perhaps some Jethro Tull, possibly some of George Harrison's solo works, just as examples. In the classical world, it looks like he prefers lighter works, from what little we have to go on. We know he liked Puccini...at least until Angelus left that special gift in his bed. But if he likes La Boheme, chances are he likes a lot of the most popular operatic war-horses, such as Carmen, a lot of Verdi, and probably some Mozart and Rossini as well. In fact, I would expect the last two to appeal strongly to his precise nature. Don't be afraid to play with his love of classical, as well as classic rock.
Sex: The man's a stevedore. He's so good, a woman who had a one-night stand with him could think of nothing else months later, even when her daughter was dangerously close to a complete mental breakdown. He's a hunk of burning something or other. His singing voice makes lesbians lust after him.
But Giles is still a very human man. He's in good physical shape, and he's obviously got sexy down, but still, try to keep his talents and proportions somewhere in the vicinity of a normal man. Yes, he did it twice in a row on the hood of a police car while drugged, but that doesn't necessarily mean his usual capacity is six times in a row when not drugged, not in a public place, and not worrying about getting away before the cop he punched out comes to. Make it good, but don't make it too unreasonable.
Oh, and if he's badly injured, he probably just can't rise to the occasion.
And even the best has the occasional off night. Don't be afraid to allow him a sexual experience that fails to be utterly spectacular once in a while. Sometimes, sex is only 'nice' even with someone who's usually a really great partner.
Rebellion: For all his reputation as the stuffy follower of rules for the sake of following rules, Giles is, has been, and always will be a rebel for any cause he deems worthy. Whether one considers Giles' interference in the Cruciamentum a father's love, a lover's ardor, or simply a moral stand against a barbaric tradition, the fact remains that he chose Buffy's safety over following the rules. When duty and his own moral sense conflict, Giles invariably chooses
his own stance.
Sense of Duty: For all his rebellion, however, Giles is driven by his sense of duty, to his Slayer, to his friends, and to the world. Much of his later season ambiguity seems as much rooted in his inability to separate himself from his Watcher duties as from his hurt at Scooby neglect.
He's willing to do anything - literally anything up to and including murder - to fulfill his duty to help save the world from vampires and demons.
Yes, Giles is a mass of contradictions. But those contradictions add up to one truly fascinating
character. If you use the disparate elements of Giles' character with care and thought, your fic will be richer and more eloquent for it.
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