Here’s what we at Me First Magazine look for in first person pieces:
Timing: All stories need to represent how time flows (whether fantastical or literary). When writing from inside of a character’s head one must realistically represent the importance of time via past or present tense. As hard as editors are on first person point-of-view,they look down on present tense even more. When done properly it is still difficult to place present tense work, but it too has a place here.
Character: This is the most important aspect of first person storytelling. Readers need to know your character inside and out. Make them live. Make them feel. Make them empathize with every ache and pain. Emote well and the story will sell.
Setting: This is the most neglected area of first person writing. It will get you rejected. Just because a story is told from the eyes of one person, animal, or object does not give writers a license to skimp. Readers still need to experience a fully developed world using all five senses.
Start and finish: This is the kicker. Most first person stories only work if the reader knows how the narrator is telling their story. We’ve all met the campfire opening and the fictitious autobiography. It’s easy to start as if someone just opened a diary. Everything in writing has been done. We are less concerned with how the character is delivering their tale than the story itself. That does not mean we wish to read five-hundred works that start in the middle of a gunfight and end with a dead main character. Have some sense, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Let the work speak for itself.
Dialogue (internal and external): Characters need to speak for themselves. Internal dialogue is important but cannot carry a story on its own. The same goes for conversations. Give us action but make your characters real by allowing them to speak up and say things most people would say. Save the philosophical rants for internal thought and leave self-congratulatory preaching in your first drafts then edit them out. Yes, many of us get into publishing because we have something to say and want to “change the world,” but writers all have an ego the size of Mars. Readers can smell too much pride from the first page. Cut it out.