To Spoil Or Not To Spoil

When I was a kid, I loved going to movies. I loved the moment that the lights went down, when the trailers started projecting across the screen, when I was shown tantalizing glimpses of worlds to come. I was totally drawn in by the hints and the suggestions, the story bits that were sprinkled across the screen to draw me in.

Not so much anymore. Trailers routinely tell the viewer the entire story, from start to finish. Every character arc is revealed. Every plot detail is displayed.

And it’s not just trailers. Movie reviews routinely tell the entire plot, including any backstory and all Big Reveals. Book reviews recite plots, juggernauting from point to point with a vigor that would have doomed any elementary school book report that I attempted to submit for credit.

Due to a number of time-sucking real-world events, I was unable to read Harry Potter VII until three weeks after its release. I skated through mainstream media with my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears. I skimmed the hundreds of blogs that I monitor each day, skipping over all entries that contained the letters H and P in close proximity. I squinted as I read book review sections — even headlines — in newspapers and magazines both print and electronic.

And somehow, I survived unscathed. I opened the Deathly Hallows without knowing if Snape was good or evil, if Harry lived or died, even without knowing what the Hallows were. And my reading experience was superior because I didn’t know.

I am astonished when readers ask me to tell them about my books. I say things like, “SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL is the story of Jane Madison, a librarian who finds out that she’s a witch. When she takes on the powerful women in her local coven, she has to fight to keep her witchcraft skills. The only way she can win is to decide what — and who — is important to her.” About fifty percent of the people I talk to say, “Yeah? What is important to her? Does she end up with this guy? Or that one? And does she keep her witchcraft skills?”

My mind boggles. I ask people if they really want to know. About half say yes. About half want to know every last plot detail for a book that won’t be released until September 25.

So, how about you? Do you read for plot? For character? For the invention of alternative worlds? And do you care if someone spoils the plot for you?

Mindy, avoiding the spoils of reading and movie wars

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  1. 1. Leanne

    I read for plot. I am simply and totally a reading-for-pleasure person. I don’t mind concentrating to follow the plot – that’s what engages me with the book – but I have to pay intensive attention to the large amounts of stuff that I read for work. I don’t WANT to read closely to analyze for nuances of character. I don’t WANT to have to concentrate on every single little detail to understand the world. A good book for me is one that embeds enough of the details into the plot that I can read it casually and still take away everything important on the first read. If I liked it, I’ll go back and read it over and over, and that’s when I’ll appreciate the details of the world-building, and the nuances of character, and the subtle hints of this that or the other thing.

    I have to distinguish the reading I do for fun from the reading that I do for work, and the difference seems to be in the level of attention and concentration that I apply. If a book makes me think too much on the first read, I typically abandon it until I get to a less-reading-intensive stint at work.

  2. 2. Elizabeth

    I agree with you completely, I hate to be spoiled. I didn’t want to know, until I got to the end, whether Harry lived or died. I also dislike movie trailers that tell you the whole story; why bother going to see it now? I’ve already seen all the best bits.

  3. 3. David de Beer

    With book reviews, I like a review that takes an in-depth look at the book, that’s the best way I can get a sense of whether this book is for me, regardless of whether the reviewer liked it or not. (The thumbs up or down by someone else is largely irrelevant to me when it comes to deciding on a book) The reviewer only has to make sense, which, you know OMG! THIS LIKE TOTALLY RCKS! OMG SO COOL! YOU HAVE GOT TO READ THIS! BEST BOOK EVER!

    uhm, ok, why is it the best book ever? why is it cool?
    Besides, I never remember the plot anyways when it comes time to read the book, so it doesn’t bother me. When I read a review, I’m not looking for a synop, I’m looking for reasons to read it.

    But yeah, most people react to a whiff of spoiling like a mob reacts to a witch with handy stones nearby.
    And then they go and spoil it anyways when they themselves talk about it, which boggles the mind.

    As to reading for plot or character -well, uhm, I read for both, so can’t help you there.

  4. 4. David Louis Edelman

    Well put. The other place where people are completely insensitive to movie spoilers is on DVD menu transitions. I got so annoyed the first time I popped in the DVD for the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink. Three-quarters of the movie is spent questioning whether John Goodman’s character is a serial killer or just an ordinary salesguy. But as soon as you hit “Play” on the DVD (spoiler alert!), they show a clip from the climactic scene where Goodman runs down a burning hallway screaming like a lunatic with a shotgun.

    That being said… I think people are too obsessed with spoilers. Yes, it’s nice to be surprised by the plot the first time you experience a book or movie. But good books and movies should stand up to repeated readings/viewings. I can watch The Prestige over and over again, even though I know all the twists and turns that are going to happen along the way.

  5. 5. Adrianne Middleton

    HP7 is on my tbr stack. Haven’t gotten to it yet. I spent the first week enforcing our “Don’t tell me what happens!” rule. I want to enjoy it when I get round to it. So, I’ll wait to read what happens to Jane rather than demanding to know what happens. Besides. The devil, or the best part, is in the details.

    Adrianne

  6. 6. Lisa

    I personally don’t mind spoilers at all–I avoided them for Harry Potter, because the HP books focus so much on plot, but normally I’ll happily click on spoiler links in book reviews. I follow the same logic as David–if the book is truly spoiled by knowing its plot beforehand, then it’s not a book worth reading.

  7. 7. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    You know, sometimes I will go read the last pages of a book and it doesn’t bother me one bit. It used to. But now for me, it’s more about the characters and how they get there. Unless it’s a mystery. Then I get pissed. I’m so glad when I saw The Sixth Sense I didn’t know what what was coming! On the other hand, it aggravates me when reviewers give it away. I think it’s more on the behalf of people who mind than not. It seems that reviewers have an obligation to discuss the book or movie without giving away major plot spoilers. That’s their job (or the role they take on when reviewing). I think it can be done well and thoroughly without giving away the spoilers. If the reviewer takes the time.

    I do agree with David–if I like a book, I’ll reread it and more than once. Same with movies. And now it appears I need to actually watch The Prestige, which I taped on the DVR recently and haven’t got around to.

  8. 8. Karen Wester Newton

    Weird! I thought I commented through LJ but it didn’t show up here.

    I can’t stand it when reviewers reveal the story ending! I don’t mind it so much if they just give you the “set up” (i.e., what makes the situation interesting), but they often go too far! What’s the point in creating a story with some tension and suspense if some reviewer (or trailer-maker in the case of movies) is going to poke a hole and let the tension all leak out beforehand?

    I went to a reading at a con once where the author read from his third book in a series. I had read only the first book; the second one had come out fairly recently and the third one wasn’t due out for months (he read from m.s. pages) and he read from near the end of the book! I totally didn’t get why. He told us not only that the protagonist survived but the villain and some of the secondary characters were still around. It’s called a reading not a spoiling!

    Doh!

  9. 9. Kelly McCullough

    It varies for me, in part because I’ve got about 300 book on my to-read pile.

    If I’m enjoying a book but sense a train wreck coming on–this happens more than I’d like–I’ll flip to the back to see if I get the train wreck. If I do, I put the book in the goes to the used bookstore stack. If I don’t I read on. Likewise, if I’m not enjoying a book much after the first 10 pages or so, I’ll flip to the back to see if it goes where I think it’s going, or if it gets better. If it gets better, I’ll give it another 10-50 pages before I make a decision about whether or not to put it aside.

    With HP, I had very strong sense that one kind of ending would be a betrayal of why I read Rowling. I flipped to the end solely to see if Harry lived, trying to avoid all other spoilers. Once I knew the answer to that question agreed with what I’m interested in seeing, I was willing to read on. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered.

  10. 10. Michael M Jones

    I’ll often flip to the end if I’m worried about something. Like if it’s not a romance novel, and I wanted to know who lives, who dies, and how that romance I saw coming early on turns out. Or if someone I suspect to be evil really is.

    Because for me? It’s all about the journey. Knowing if someone lives or dies, falls in love or not, doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of HOW they got there. (And yes, Kelly, I do the same to your books, because I happen to find Ravirn and Cerice fascinating and I HAD to know how they turn out…)

    As a reviewer, I am almost pathologically opposed to revealing spoilers to other people, though. Unless they outright ask me, I will just nod and smile and refuse to give away The Big Twist. In my reviews, I will tease and tantalize and try to make people want to buy the book for themselves.
    I believe in a certain code of reviewer ethics that says Thou Shalt Not Spoil The Book For Others. :>

    Just my two cents.

  11. 11. Kate Elliott

    I prefer to be unspoiled. Because I like to be surprised. (or not, since sometimes you know what is coming, but in that case – say, girl and boy get together – then you really are reading for the journey not the destination.)

    I didn’t read HP for about 3 weeks either, and I was careful to avoid spoilers.

  12. 12. Kelly McCullough

    Hey, Michael,

    I’m just glad you read it and found bits fascinating. How you read it, particularly in light of the way I read things, is something between you and the text.

  13. 13. Simon Haynes

    I don’t like spoilers or movie trailers. I avoid network tv and I don’t even go to the movies because by the time they’ve finished previewing something you’ve already had the best bits in a convenient 30-second summary.

    Instead, it’s DVDs and the TV projector for me: Movies at home with surround sound. I might only watch something every 3-4 weeks, but I enjoy it immensely.

  14. 14. Cameron Lowe

    For the most part, I don’t mind the occasional spoiler. I think reviewing any movie, book, or video game without revealing too much information is a talent, and should be praised as such. However, it really doesn’t bother me overly much to read a spoiler or two, mostly for the reasons others have listed – if it’s a good movie or book, I’ll check it out anyways.

    One problem I’ve been having lately with movies in particular is that the “twists” are pretty darned blatant almost from the start. In a mediocre movie, this is a deal-breaker, but if a movie is made well enough or has something else to offer, then I’ll happily watch the rest of it.

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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