I’m thinking of writing Han Solo-type characters who happened to either women or non-binary. I’m inspired by women both in fiction & real life, such as Gentleman Jack and Julie d’Aubigny, roguish types who make other women (& few people) swoon while swashbuckling bad guys, rustle high societies & go on adventures. As a straight guy of colour myself, how do I write her or their backstory properly? What sort of cliches & tropes I should be aware of and avoid? How do I write a Han Solo-type who happens to be a woman or nonbinary?
Hey Zack, thanks for writing in!
Chris and my philosophy on gender is that in most cases, you can write a woman the same way you’d write a man, and this seems to be one of those times. While there are certain experiences where gender plays a big role, being Han Solo probably doesn’t qualify.
Unless you’re writing in a world with lots of sexism, your character can just do the same things a male Han Solo would do: swash buckles, charm cuties, defy death, and possibly have a character arc about learning to care for people other than themself. Of course, there is one Han Solo trait you don’t want to duplicate, and that’s his occasional disregard for consent. That’s not a good look on any main character, no matter their gender.
In fact, the place where male writers most often run into trouble with this kind of character is their rush to communicate that they are writing a woman. This is how you end up with stories that spend a creepy amount of time on the protagonist’s breasts and butt, and stories where the heroine makes choices through inscrutable space logic like they’re some kind of alien from Saturn.
If you’re having trouble, you can try writing the character as a dude, then change the pronouns when you’re done. In all likelihood, you won’t have to change much. A lot of female characters have been written this way over the years, most notably Ripley from the Aliens franchise. I’d also recommend checking out Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, if you’d like to see a heroine who can match Han Solo for one liners and daring do any day of the week.
As an important caveat, this could all change if you’re writing in a setting that has a lot of gender-based discrimination. In that case, the only way forward is to do a lot of research on sexism and how it affects people’s lives, along with all the ways it can intersect with other types of discrimination. If that’s not an appealing route, then you can always change the setting to be more egalitarian.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!