Plot Busters (2) – Tips from HEX HALL

Scroll down for the link to part 3.

1. A prologue done right.

This could easily have been called chapter one and I wouldn’t have blinked an eye. This is the kind of opening that would make me buy a book, which it did.

It showed Sophie in a ‘save the cat’ scene. She feels bad for the girl crying at prom because she has no date. Sophie understands and foregoes any rules about performing magic to help this poor girl out with a simple love spell.

Which goes horribly wrong.

The girl chooses the most popular guy/football player who ends up crashing the prom, literally, with his truck. And with blood dripping from his mouth, he yells the girl’s name.

  • Over the top funny.
  • Showed a likeable character – Sophie.
  • Introduced us to and showed backstory on Sophie.
  • Doubled as the inciting incident so it was important to the story.
  • Hooked the reader.

2. Setting up clues for Act III

These clues were set up so well and were such an intricate part of the story that I didn’t recognize them as clues until the Act III twists.

3. Humor

Perfect. Sophie makes some funny and quick comebacks when she’s on the defensive, but she’s not snarky or obnoxious, which made me like her even more.

Not only was Sophie funny but a couple of the scenes were too. For example, the prologue.

And later, Sophie is trying to magic up her Hallow’s Eve dress on a cursed dummy. So every dress she tries to create turns out to be this hilarious monstrosity.

4. A likeable character

  • Sophie isn’t whiny despite her circumstances.
  • Sophie shows kindness.
  • When she makes a decision to retaliate we see her doubt along with her determination.
  • She’s never the victim.

5. Preparing for a sequel.

I don’t like when the first book in a trilogy leaves off in the middle of a dramatic scene. In HEX HALL the main storyline was wrapped up with a complete full climactic scene. No half climax because the real climax has to happen in book three.

  • New mysteries were introduced.
  • At the end, Sophie comes to a new decision – to go through the removal process where her powers will be stripped.
  • She’s never met her dad, but we know she will in book two.

Just enough mystery to propel me onto book two but a complete story that left me emotionally satisfied. Way to go!

Read Part 3 – How to write a rockin’ sequel.

What do you like from the first book of a trilogy?

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27 Responses to Plot Busters (2) – Tips from HEX HALL

  1. Creepy Query Girl June 8, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    I wasn’t convinced that the love interest in book 1 was a ‘bad guy’ and I knew there was something more to the ground’s keeper’s interest in her- both of which were embelished more on in book two. I really love this series.

  2. Andrea June 8, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Wow – I can see from your analysis that I’m going to have to read this book! Your plotbuster posts are so helpful.

  3. christine danek June 8, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I like a great intro to the character, getting to know them well, and a intro to what the problem is. Isn’t that what we all want?
    I don’t like when the ending makes it so obvious that there will be a second or third book.
    I like when it hints it may be a possibility, but there doesn’t have to be one.
    Again, great post and very helpful.

    • Laura June 8, 2011 at 11:22 am #

      This first book did such a great job setting up for book 2, which was incredibly awesome and blew me away. In fact, if a book 1 leaves me hanging in the middle of a scene for a cliffhanger, I usually don’t read the sequel. That bugs me to no end.

  4. Jenna June 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I liked the ending of the first Hunger Games book. It wrapped everything up, for the most part, but left a barb at the end that absolutely forced me to read the second book.

    Also, I wanted to let you know I’ve awarded you the Irresistably Sweet Blog Award over at Great post and congrats!

  5. Angela Felsted June 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    My favorite description, found on the first page of Hex Hall, is where she talks about the humid heat and how her hair is swallowing her sun glasses. Seriously, this author has an awesome voice!

  6. Laura Marcella June 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    I also like when a series’ first book’s plot is wrapped up well, but leaves a little something to make the next book enticing. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Mysterious Benedict Society does this well.

  7. Matthew MacNish June 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    That does sound like a great opening. Some writers are so clever about combining everything.

  8. Meagan Spooner June 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I’m definitely going to have to read this book–I’ve been hearing about it for ages, obviously, but never quite got around to hunting it down.

    I normally don’t like prologues but every so often I see them done right–the book I just finished (Ultraviolet, by R.J. Anderson) had a GREAT prologue that basically clinched my reading the book cover to cover.

  9. Lisa Green June 8, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    I think this says the most: “Sophie makes some funny and quick comebacks when she’s on the defensive, but she’s not snarky or obnoxious, which made me like her even more.” I see too many people these days mistaking snark for voice. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing – believe me I use it too, but it isn’t a substitution. Good call!

  10. Stina Lindenblatt June 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Now that I’ve read your analysis, Laura, I can get the sequel. I couldn’t remember what happened in Hex Hall, so I wasn’t rushing to read the book. I just remember HH being funny. 😀

    I, too, prefer that the first book in a trilogy does not to end in a cliffhanger. That’s what I loved about Divergent.

  11. Sherrie Petersen June 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Cliffhangers piss me off. That’s one of the reasons I love Maggie Stiefvater. Each book stands on its own as a complete story, but you’re still eager to read the next.

    The Hex Hall books are awesome for the same reason. Great voice, imaginative plot and a brilliant use of rising tension. I’m ready to read anything Rachel Hawkins writes!

  12. MG Higgins June 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Another wonderful analysis. I’ve found that some of my favorite books in a series are the first, because I like getting to know a main character and his/her world. Once the character and world are established, then followups in the series need to have very strong plots, or introduce new and interesting characters or locations. Hawkins does a great job with all of these.

    • Laura June 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

      Thanks everyone! I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like cliff hangers. It’s almost like an author doesn’t have the confidence that readers will like their first book.

  13. Karen Strong June 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    I like the first book in a trilogy to just be able to stand alone. I like to have some “hanging fruit” plot point/questions to resolve later in the trilogy but I want to feel that the characters have finished something.

    Sounds like a lot of people agree with this too. 🙂

  14. Shannon O'Donnell June 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    You are amazing, Laura! I wish I could have you as a guest speaker in my classroom. You would have my kids riveted! 🙂

  15. Kris Asselin June 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    I really have to get this book. But I just started THE DUFF, so that comes first. It really takes a special book to make me want to read the sequels. Something riveting. Or a really deep love for the characters. Haven’t had one in a long time.

  16. Susan Sipal June 9, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    I haven’t read Hex Hall yet but have been wanting to. Your analysis makes me move that to the sooner rather than later pile.

    And I agree with Karen above — I want the first book to have a satisfying conclusion, but leave some dangling mysteries of what is to come.

  17. Alex J Cavanaugh June 9, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    I like the establishment of the setting and characters so the rest of the books flow without a lot of backstory required.

  18. Lydia K June 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    I don’t like cliffhanger endings to the first in a trilogy. I like it as it happened in Hex Hall–most things are resolved, but enough unresolved things to make the reader itch for another book.

  19. Tana Adams June 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    OK so totally OT question. Is the prologue a piece of the story without actually beginning the story and a preface gives an essence of the book? If you’re doing a series can you do a preface more than once? I’m looking into doing this for my third book (preface) in a series and I’ve already done a preface in book 1.

  20. Carolina Valdez Miller June 9, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Ah, great analysis. Does it take you a long time to do these? So thorough!

  21. Marcia June 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    I like the first book in a trilogy to have a full climax and solid ending, but with “possibilities” left open for future books. I’m more willing to be left hanging in the second book than the first.

    That’s such a good example of what a prologue can and should do — NOT be an info dump.

  22. Leslie Rose June 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    If I am pulled in my a great character, I’ll gladly follow them on their further adventures. Cliffhangers on a first book make me nuts. I don’t mind breadcrumbs for exciting things to come but please wrap up the main story arc for me. Great breakdown. I feel my TBR pile growing again.

  23. Karen Lange June 9, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    I like the way you break things down (and appreciate it too!). I like the first book in a trilogy if it really grabs me and keeps my attention the whole way through. I want it to wrap up well, but no cliffhangers, and then still leave enough potential for the other two books. A tricky balance, I know, but I’ve seen it done well.

  24. Girl Friday June 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Rather late, catching up on reading blogs, but just wanted to say I love these breakdowns of yours, they’re so interesting and helpful 🙂


  1. Plot Busters – HEX HALL Breakdown (1) – Laura Pauling - August 15, 2011

    […] Hawkins got many things right with this story. Read Plot Busters (2) Tips from HEX HALL This entry was written by Laura, posted on June 6, 2011 at 10:00 am, filed under Plotting a […]

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