Ah, yes, my very most favorite question of all time.
Look, I understand that this question mostly comes from a well-intentioned place, I do. So let me go a head and tell you why this question makes me grind my teeth so that we can get this out of the way.
Reason 1. There's nothing mysterious or magical about women. This is the same thing that frustrates me when dudes tell me that they don't know how to talk to women. You talk to them the same way that you would anyone else; there's no magic words that you can say to make her like you. We are not arcane puzzles to be solved by the worthy. We are people.
The same thing is true about female characters. The magic to writing a female character is simply this. Write your character. Then go through and change all the pronouns to female pronouns. She, her, etc. There. You're done. Your character is now female.
Female characters can be and do all of the things that male characters can. They can be ruthless and efficient wielders of great power. They can be villains. They can even be fat and ugly. There is no role that a female character is not suited for.
Reason 2: I have never even once gotten a congratulations on my ability to write male characters. Okay, except for this one time where my brother said that I'd captured whiskey dick flawlessly, but aside from that, nothing. The reason for this is not that I'm bad at writing men; it's that writing men is an expected skill, because our heroes are men. Yes, there are exceptions. I recently had the opportunity to read Veil of Shadows by Terry Mixon, which had an engaging female lead... a space princess turned super soldier. But women are our heroes far less often than men are. Women are the sidekick, the prize, the helpmate, but seldom the hero. They are there to satisfy the male protagonist's needs.
So now that we have the teeth-grinding frustration out of the way, I will tell you that there are things that set female characters apart. I came to think of this because a male comedian friend of mine contended while I was in the middle of this rant that women go through things in life that men don't. And he's right. And I don't mean periods or pregnancy or child rearing.
When you are a woman, you navigate a world that is not yours. It is as though you are a kid who is constantly bullied on the playground in subtle ways, ways that you cannot prove. Someone knocked those books out of your hands? Are you sure you didn't drop them? Someone took your lunch? Are you sure you didn't misplace it? Paid less than the man sitting next to you? Are you sure he's not more qualified than you are? Harassed on the street? Are you sure he wasn't just trying to pay you a compliment?
As a woman you move through spaces constantly aware that people will touch you without permission and invade your personal space at will.
As a woman, you know that there's a possibility that the person behind you is following you. You know this because it's happened before.
As a woman, you are an alien, because you're never presented in media as anything other than a decoration. You will never, ever see anyone that looks like you on television or in a magazine. You don't exist in the world, because the only images of femaleness that are presented are perfect, and none of us are perfect.
As a woman, you experience from childhood the keen awareness that you need a man to validate you. That people will not listen to you, but they'll listen to your boyfriend. That people will leave you alone if you're with a man, mostly. That you may need to take a male friend to the auto repair place with you, to make sure you don't get dicked around.
So, are you up to tackling the above?
Maybe it's better to start with just changing those pronouns from "he" to "she." If more people would do that, we'd have fewer of the problems that are listed above.
Author's note: I understand that this is a very binary representation of gender, but I do not feel well-equipped to opine on the struggles that the non-binary community faces with representation. If you are trans or non-binary, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to have a guest post from you.