One of my favorite and most frustrating scenes to write happened when Leon was having a fight with Gaia. This scene drove me mad, mainly because I could not get Leon to talk. He was so brittle and enraged that he refused to speak to Gaia, which meant he refused to speak to me, too. He actually walked away from me when the scene opened, which was my first surprise. I knew we were in trouble. As I tried to advance the scene forward, physically walking into the space, I could only see him from behind because he refused turn to face us, us being Gaia and me.
It was a terrible feeling. I had a sickening premonition that Gaia was going to push him towards explosive anger, and I didn’t want either of them to be ugly or unfair or mean. I didn’t want characters I cared about to hurt each other.
Too bad for me.
That scene took me a million drafts, and I had to get worked up emotionally to match the hurt and anger of the situation each time, trying to make it true. The dialogue had to be biting and incisive, and the scene had to go on far longer than conflict-adverse little me could ever endure in real life. That scene, which I kept going back to, became pivotal for me to understand Leon. It had to encompass every injustice and betrayal that had come before, and it had to inform every possibility that came afterward. The drafts started with silence, then became too vicious for me to bear, and then reined back to the way the scene reads now.
I’ve learned a lot about Leon over the span of three books. He’s fiendishly smart, for one thing, in the way he can read people and quickly see solutions in dangerous situations. He trusts just about nobody, though he’s naturally civil. He certainly had a corrosive, manipulative family life while he was growing up. He’s layered, tender, powerful, and hungry. I’m not certain he sees himself clearly or if he ever can.
It’s hard to say much more without being spoilerish. I will offer up one small exchange though, one that I find telling. There’s a point when Leon has to do something awful. He has his reasons, but it’s still awful, and a father says to him, doubting Leon can be so calculated and cruel:
“You look like a decent young man.”
Leon’s reply: “I’m not.”
As people, I don’t think we’re made all good or all bad. I think we’re trying. And Leon’s wrong about himself. He’s inherently decent. He can’t help but be.
“Ruled,” the short story that falls between Books 2 and 3 of the Birthmarked trilogy, comes out this Wednesday, September 19th, free on Tor.com. It’s told from Leon’s perspective and gives a glimpse of the outsider looking in.