The second try only changes a little in the first 13 lines.
Dale cast glances at the audience from the podium of the large lecture hall. She expected the Dean, her committee and the distinguished professors in the first rows. The crowd standing around the walls was more than she expected. She was still relaxed and confident. For her, it was a small audience, but she was not doing the same old song and dance. The hubbub quieted as her title slide appeared on the screen under the familiar crimson shield with white stripe and three open books--the mark of Harvard’s School of Arts and Sciences. Dissertation: Gravitational Attraction Canceled Dale Kaiser, Doctoral Candidate “‘What goes up must come down’ is not true anymore--at least not as long as your reactor keeps working,” she said.
After re-partitioning and cuts, the first chapter is about 3700 words. Any volunteers to read?
Dale cast self-conscious glances at the overflow audience as she entered the large lecture hall. Seats were filled with her committee and faculty of the physics department. The crowd standing around the walls was more than she expected. She should have been relaxed and confident. For her, this was a small audience, but her performance was not the same old song and dance this time. The hubbub quieted when Dale got to the podium and began tapping at the keyboard of the projection computer. The title slide of her presentation appeared on the screen: Dissertation: Gravitational Attraction Canceled Dale Kaiser, Doctoral Candidate "'What goes up must come down' is not true anymore--at least not as long as the reactor keeps working," she said.
[This message has been edited by JeffBarton (edited June 25, 2009).]
The opening is well-written. The only nit is that you call the audience both small and large, and perhaps spent too much time on that topic.
However, I suggest you consider starting the story somewhere else. A lecture hall in paragraph one might be non-starter for many editors or agents as it promises a drawn-out "telling" session from the get-go. Of course, I'm reviewing what I haven't read so I easily could be way off mark...you might have some extraordinary event happening soon after. I'm just sayin'...
I had the same temptation in a story set in academia too (consciousness instead of physics) and succumbed many times, if not in the opening, then in many similar situations. The setting begs it. I hope to salvage that novel, someday.
I thought it was well written also, but there wasn't much of a hook for me. The only thing that made me want to keep reading was the sentence that she should have been relaxed but wasn't. It made me wonder why this was different. Other than that I wasn't excited to read about her dissertation, still I would have kept reading a little longer to see why she shouldn't have been nervous.
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What I get from this intro is that there will be something interesting and unique involved in her lecture. As it is, the idea for nerves in a lecture is no surprise; most everyone has some level of nerves before a lecture. And all those thoughts about the crowd and the newness of her lecture, and even the title could come later. So my suggestion is to start during the lecture. Maybe not with the shock, but as she starts her defense, with the intro to the topic that most non-physicists would need anyway. That would let you set up your/her cool idea hopefully without forcing it.
Hope that helps! BoredCrow (survivor of many a thesis/dissertation defense seminar)
I rather liked it. Having not spent enough time in academia I'm interested in stories about life in ivory towers, especially when they start by cancelling gravity. (So, um, why aren't people sitting on the ceiling? ;-)
I'd suggest more strongly that her nervousness is on account of her topic. I thought the keyboard tapping was distracting detail.
I think there are a couple of subtle tense probs: "was more than she had expected" and "her performance was not to be the same old".
Here's what I'm thinking after the first 13:
I'm thinking this is definitely a scifi story... so of course the new discovery is going to be announced to the scientific world in a conference somewhere... only those can be quite boring, even though the discoveries are quite amazing...
I would be wondering if a more interesting opening might be showing how they discovered the cancellation of gravity, rather than announcing that they have. What happened? Did someone screw up the cyclotron? Did the scientist find dark matter repels other matter? Did they discover an antigravity thruster for a spaceship? I'd be willing to read, because I like seeing what science fiction does with interesting premises, but the conference idea makes me hesitant. Though, as has been mentioned, I would keep reading to find out why she is nervous. Shouldn't she be excited and confident if he had evidence of such nature? I'm wondering what the milieu is that such evidence would cause a graduate student to shake with fear instead of arrogantly trumpeting her discovery to the world. Is her evidence flawed? Did she make it up? Is she just nervous in front of crowds? Is it her partner's idea and she stole it, she's worried she'll get caught? Does she simply doubt the importance of her own discovery? I'd keep going, just to see what happens next.
But, if you keep the conference idea, I'd start with the last sentence:
"'What goes up must come down' is not true anymore--at least not as long as the reactor keeps working,"
Makes me wonder: Really? How? You've got me hooked at the first line, which makes your "freebie" paragraph have a lot more potential.
[This message has been edited by Teraen (edited June 19, 2009).]
TaleSpinner: People are in their seats because 1) The reactor is switched off, and 2) the effect is localized Thanks for pointing out the tense issues. I wrote the first draft in present tense and missed a few spots when changing to past tense.
Teraen: She was nervous because this performance was much more important to her than 'the old song and dance' she did before larger audiences. Since the nervousness drew all the comments, I conclude that it's a distraction. Her later behavior shows a stronger personality, so she's not nervous in the second try.
The second try is edited into the first post of the thread. I'm looking for volunteers to read the first and/or second chapters -- 3700 and 2500 words respectively.