I've been asked what I can find out about a story from the first page. For the purposes of our game here I call that 250 words (granted, longer than a first page but generally about how long I can be guaranteed to read before giving up). I actually expect a LOT out of that first page.
I expect these items, in order of importance though not necessarily appearance:
- Who is my hero/ine? For short stories, I really want to know who I'm banking on. Think of it this way: I'm new to your world and I need a guide to show me around. I'm not much for a prologue featuring the antagonist in short fiction, though of course it can work. (Generally I prefer single POVs in short fiction, and no prologues or epilogues.) No need to be coy, Roy, use actual names for your characters. And I daresay you won't see a story in Electric Spec that starts with the word "It." (Now of course someone will run out and find one that did!) A safe bet is to get your character doing something in the first lines, or at least the first paragraph. Not a rule by any means, but a reliable technique. Bonus points for showing me it's a protag I will care about or am happy to depend on, either cuz s/he's sympathetic, empathetic, or too cool for school.
- Where am I? I don't need a travelogue, but gimme a hint.
One like the Renaissance? (THE SPIRIT LENS)
Dystopic Jersey Shore? (I think there's a show or something.)
Alternate historical Alaska? (THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION)
Space? Maybe a long, long time ago? (Duh)
We're doing speculative fiction here, folks. Take me where I've never been before.
- Is there a problem here, officer? C'mon, at least a hint at a story problem and conflict. What's this guy or girl or multi-gendered alien up against?
And, yeah. That's really about it. See? Put like that, it really doesn't seem like too much to ask from 250 words.