Alex led the way into B101 and paused at the back of the darkened auditorium as he looked down at the available seats. His friends spilled out of the door and pooled around him, creating a momentary roadblock for any other late-arriving students. His eyes locked onto a section at the front-center of the classroom: four open chairs in the second row and four more directly behind in the third. He made his way down the slight incline with his posse, like a dad leading his family down the aisle of a movie theater. All that was missing was a bag of popcorn.
That first sentence is really clumsy. I can hear it when I read it to myself, but if that's tough for you, try reading it aloud. I trip up when I get to "paused at the back of the darkened auditorium." There's just no rhythm to it. The second sentence is just as bad. Spilled out the door, pooled around him, momentary roadblock...at a certain point the sentence becomes too puffy, and when that happens, you lose the reader.
So how do we make it flow? Well, first we have to trim all the fat. Let's take a look at that first sentence again. Do we really need to know that Alex was the first one into the classroom? (Does that even make sense given his character traits? Wouldn't the first one into the classroom most likely be Patrick?) How about the other details? A dark auditorium. Empty seats. Friends spilling out of the door and pooling around him creating a momentary roadblock (that's a bad case of over writing). Does any of that stuff actually add to the story? Is any of it absolutely necessary? I'd say no. So cut it. Cut the whole paragraph, and start from scratch.
Think about the characters. What are they feeling right now? Four friends on the first day of school in an environment that's still very new to them.... They should be excited, right? And wouldn't it be cool if there was some kind of cutting-edge feature within the classroom? You know, something to fire them up even more, get the reader a little more invested in what's happening here. Who cares that the room is dark and some seats are empty? When describing a setting for the first time, pick out one or two really interesting features and let the reader fill in the blanks from there. Nobody wants to drown in details. Get in, get out, and keep the story moving.
Alex filed into the second row without looking back at the others, content to let the seating arrangement take care of itself. Is Eva going to sit at my side? Do I really want her to sit at my side? He could sense his friends hesitating in the aisle, talking and gesturing as they made their first important decision of the school year. Alex plopped down in the center-most chair and turned to his left with a mixture of nerves and anticipation. He felt a sense of relief to see the threesome walking his way. They settled into their chairs; Patrick to Alex’s right, Eva to Alex’s left, and Nathan left of Eva.
I should mention that there were a total of eight students in this scene, and that's why Alex is relieved to see Nate, Patrick, and Eva walking his way (the four of them had not yet formed a tight bond). I made a rookie mistake the first time through: introducing too many characters in the first few chapters. Would you believe I actually wrote dialogue for eight students during the Dining Hall chapter? Whoa, Nellie! My head was spinning as I typed that scene, so I'm sure it would've been really confusing for readers. I ended up cutting four characters and shortening that chapter by about 1,500 words. Their cutting led to some necessary scene changes throughout the rest of the novel, including this one here.
“Believe it or not, we actually volunteered to sit next to you,” Patrick said with half-a-smile. “Well, except for Nathan. Nathan was just following Eva.”
This is due for a serious overhaul.