Hey! Welcome back. This week I’m doing a writing analysis which is similar to a book review but from a writing perspective. I’ll be looking at different techniques the author has used and the overall impact of the techniques on the story. Texts are based on my reading preferences and I am not affiliated with the author or publisher. I have done my best to avoid spoilers but in analysing the writing I have had to draw attention to certain elements that may impact your reading of the story. Heads up!
Today we’re looking at The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. The Final Girl Support Group is a stand-alone horror novel about 5 ‘Final Girls’ who attend a regular support group. When one of them is murdered and suspicious activity begins to surround the others, one of the members (Lynette) is convinced someone is after all 4 remaining Final Girls and becomes determined to convince the others. What’s a Final Girl? Traditionally, she’s the last woman standing in a horror/slasher movie and generally kills the psychopath e.g. Neve Campbell in the Scream flicks and Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween franchise. She also gets sequels i.e. follow up confrontations with her supposedly defeated attacker (thanks Hollywood)! The Final Girl Support Group was published in July this year and the blurb on Goodreads is as follows:
‘A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her? Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece. But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.’
Let’s take a look at some of the writing techniques Hendrix has used to pull off a damn good horror story!
Building believable characters
Always remember that one of the most important things when writing is to build believable characters. Not necessarily relatable or likable (though they can be), but believable. Characters are the cornerstone of your story; if your reader doesn’t care what happens to them they won’t keep reading. Now, what becomes of a Final Girl after the massacre is over? Well, in Hendrix’s novel, each woman reacts differently. One marries into money and tries to forget her past. One becomes a drug addict. One becomes a popular spokeswoman for survivors. One gets married and lives reclusively. And the last one, Lynette, our narrator, becomes hypervigilant and paranoid, always on edge and looking out for the next attack. She plans escape routes meticulously, travels convoluted paths to lose anyone who may be following, and equips her apartment with extra safety measures (including a cage when you enter the front door). She also has trouble forming any type of human relationship, opting instead to form a connection with a houseplant… yeah…
So! What do Lynette’s actions say about her? And how as readers are we supposed to respond to her character? During her attack, Lynette watched her family and boyfriend get tortured and killed. She stayed quiet the whole time, even when her younger sister came down the stairs and called out to her. BUT she was impaled on antlers that were mounted on a wall – she couldn’t have done anything for any of them, so can you judge her for playing dead and saving herself? For keeping silent to ensure she had a chance of surviving? While her behaviour was the smartest thing to do, it still didn’t sit right with me… then again, every other survivor initially ran or hid, then fought back only to save themselves. So you can’t judge Lynette (or the others for that matter) for saving herself. Hendrix has accurately reflected the behaviour of a Final Girl so the reader understands and accepts Lynette’s behaviour; it’s human evolution after all!
In another scene, Lynette comes face to face with her psychiatrist’s 8-year-old son. When he asks if Lynette is crazy, she tells him to fuck off. My first thought was ‘whoa lady, you can’t speak like that to an 8-year-old! The hell?’ Her psychiatrist calls her out on it and Lynette explains that she doesn’t like being called crazy. After considering her justification, her history, what she has lived through and what she is experiencing at that point in time, I realised that her reaction to the 8-year-old was REAL. Hendrix did another great job of building Lynette’s believability with this minor conversation.
Later in the story, Lynette is thinking about the slow death from cancer of another Final Girl’s wife. She thinks ‘can Michelle avoid it? Can’t she yank a cord and have it over with? I’m angry at her for forcing me to watch her die.’ This could be considered callous disregard for human life but, again, it’s important to understand Lynette – having only come face-to-face with frenzied and violent deaths, this slow death is foreign to her and she doesn’t understand it or how she feels about it. However, shortly after these thoughts she rescues Michelle from the hospice and tries to get her back to her ranch to die where she wanted to. This behaviour counterbalances her thoughts and adds further complexity to her character.
Show don’t tell
There are many sentences in this novel that are excellent examples of how to portray a character through their actions. The one I have chosen to reference is – ‘Stephanie folds the Sour Brite Crawlers bag over, then over again, folding it in increasingly smaller rectangles before unfolding it, pressing it flat and starting all over again.’ This is a great example of ‘show don’t tell’. Rather than telling the reader that the character was nervous or anxious, Hendrix has expressed this anxiety through her actions.
In the same scene as the above ‘show don’t tell’ example, Stephanie and Lynette have just followed a disgraced Final Girl from a set-up meeting point (where they didn’t show) to a dark, ominous part of the woods. They don’t know what awaits them but they know the twisted mind of the disgraced Final Girl. They need to maintain the element of surprise and so silence is of the utmost importance. When Lynette gets out of the car, ready to enter the darkness, Hendrix writes that the ‘trees are full of shrieking crickets’ and ‘…the door buzzer screams in the night’. These unique descriptions increase tension and build atmosphere, reflecting the reality that every small noise sounds monstrous in a moment of anxiety and fear.
For more writing analyses, check out my previous posts:
Have you come across any examples of the above techniques, either used effectively or that have fallen short? If you’ve read The Final Girl Support Group,did you notice any of the above techniques? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time,