Answering this publicly because it might be helpful to others. :)
It depends what kind of story you’re writing! In general, there are plenty of ways to add female presence to a story. It sounds like this is something you’ve already started working on, so with that in mind, here are a few ideas:
- Same plot, genderbend everyone. If real-world gender politics aren’t the main theme or focus of the story, there’s absolutely no reason that a female character can’t have the same basic plot as a male character in the same position would’ve had. (If you’re writing fantasy and you feel restricted by a medieval-based world … why not just make the world gender-equal or even a matriarchy? It’s your story. If you want more ladies, give them room to maneuver.)
- Add female points of view to what you already have. It sounds like you’re writing something with an ensemble cast already … Why not add a female voice to the mix? Giving women a voice in the cast is generally a stronger move than making them secondary characters without their own points of view (unless it’s something where you’re trying to point out how women are marginalised).
- Erase everyone’s demographics and redefine. This kind of goes off the same principle as #1, the idea that female characters and male characters can have similar plots, but it goes farther. If you’re starting with three cis-het-white-able-bodied men, for example, make one of them black and gay and male, one of them Asian and female and straight and blind, one Hispanic and agender and Jewish … any combination you want. Point is, erase the ‘norm’ and start with a blank slate, and recognise that you can still keep your plotline the same (unless the setting is bigoted enough that demographics become an issue, in which case you may have to add a subplot or two when the scary transphobic side characters in the bar decide that your trans character doesn’t get to drink there). Of course, make sure that you’re not just playing straight to stereotypes with which demographics you assign to which roles/personalities.
- If none of that floats your boat, by all means, you can start with a female character and write her a new storyline.
I think the most important thing is to realise that able-bodied cishet white male is not the ‘norm.’ I know that the media wants us to think it is (that all characters are able-bodied cishet white guys unless otherwise noted), but in real life, this ‘normal character’ is really quite a small percentage of the world’s population. In America, able-bodied-cis-het-white men are … what? an eight? a tenth? less? of the population. There’s really no such thing as ‘normal.’ And once you realise that, it’s a lot easier (and more fun) to start writing works from a female/poc/lgbtq+/disabled point of view.
What I’d caution against is adding a minor female character just for the purpose of affecting your male leads (or doing the same with a black character who’s only there to affect the white people, or a gay person who’s only there to affect the straight people, and so forth). That actually ends up worse than not having representation - it perpetuates the idea that women are only here to make men’s stories interesting, that pocs are nice but unworthy of the spotlight, that lgbtq+ people are either oddities or fakers, and so forth. None of which you want to accidentally imply.