After comments from Donald Uitvlugt on Twitter, I wanted to explain some of the harder choices I made in the writing of Passengers.
Moira and Dr. Curtis were originally one person – Moira Curtis, groundbreaking surgeon and experimenter. I wanted to have a female character for Shaun to bounce off and to talk with so we could see some of his personality, but immediately I had a problem.
Doctor Curtis was always going to die. Shaun kills Dr. Curtis to prevent her undoing the surgery that has restored his mobility and I was uncomfortable having a female character who was slated for death. It was bad enough that Shaun is going to assault her to demonstrate that he’s no longer able to prevent himself transgressing some social boundaries. So something had to change.
Luckily, realism came to my aid. Surgeons are almost never involved in patient recovery outside the occasional consultation or brief consultation. Rebuilding a body is one thing, teaching it to walk again requires a whole different set of skills.
So along came Moira, the physiotherapist. I wanted to keep a joke that cropped up when I asked Scrivener for a Scottish name and it blithely suggested “Akira”, and working that in as a personal revelation gave me the chance to create an informal relationship for Shaun to explore. It needed to be less formal than the relationship with Dr. Curtis because no matter how friendly Curtis seems, this is a character with a certain remove and detachment. It wouldn’t be believable for Shaun to grope Dr. Curtis’s boob. At least not to me. Shaun defers to Dr. Curtis, and it made sense to keep that deference. It’s also important that Shaun have a level of fear about Dr. Curtis. After all, he’s got to be aware that the good doctor could probably turn him off.
I was pretty uncomfortable writing a female character who existed for the sole purpose of having her breast groped, so it was important that the situation be written the right way. I ran my thought process past GeekGirlCo, who was really helpful in helping me handle an awkward situation appropriately.
Moira was important because I needed to show the escalation of Shaun’s condition and the cost it’s having on him. In losing Moira, he loses a friend and confidant. It pulls Shaun further away from our sympathies, because as nice as Shaun’s frontal lobes might be he’s got baser instincts lurking in his mind somewhere. I think most people have those less civilised thoughts, whether we want to call them primal urges or by a more clinical name, and the difference is that most of us know when it’s OK to act on them. Shaun doesn’t have that luxury, but it has to cost him or he can excuse it and ignore it. In short, assaulting Moira is a step that takes him closer to calling Dr. Curtis.
And yes, having a woman in a nurturing and healing role while a man gets to be a decision maker is a sexist position. It’s a trope I walked right into, but hopefully it doesn’t play out too badly.