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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Spoil This

Spoilers are a funny thing. Well, maybe not spoilers so much as how people react to them and what they mean. In a nutshell, a “spoiler” is something about the plot of a book, movie, or TV show. The term implies, in a way, that this somehow “spoils” the reader/viewer experience. But does it? I suggest not — but I also suggest that people wanting to avoid spoilers should not be dismissed.

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Why spoilers do not spoil

Have you ever heard something called, say, “a retelling of” (insert a story, play, myth, etc.) Yes? Well, then, that right there spoils the whole work, theoretically. And yet, these retellings are enjoyed. It’s not the destination but rather the getting there.

In terms of enjoying the “getting there” rather than the “destination,” I sometimes read the back of the book before I read the whole book. Not always, but sometimes. People may sometimes be shocked at this, but doing so doesn’t stop me from reading the book. I do it for two reasons: one, for some reason I am getting anxious about the fate of a character and need to know he or she will be OK. Two, the book isn’t working for me and I want to see if where it ends up is such to inspire me to read the entire thing. Both, then, are reasons why being spoiled doesn’t stop me from reading. And enjoying.

But I want to discover those things on my own

On the other hand — while reading, I like to discover things on my own. I like to be following the path the author has made and get excited or dismayed by the twist that happens, the reveal I didn’t see coming, the character I didn’t fully understand now revealed. I want to discover the book as written, not as “spoiled” by someone else telling me, oh, the twin sister did it. I want to read to learn there even is a twin sister.

Do those positions contradict?

NO. Because what remains consistent between the two is quite simple:

MY CHOICE

It is, at all times, my choice to read the back of the book. Or my choice to search out those reviews that reveal more of a plot. Or to read critiques that get into the meat of the book, including what happens and why and the author’s style. To be honest, with books it’s usually easier to keep knowing or not knowing spoilers my choice. I see reviews for a book I plan on reading, and don’t read them. I hold off on them until after I’ve read the book.

With films and TV shows, it can be harder, because people like to talk about what they are watching and that talk is often online.

I’ve realized that if I don’t want to be spoiled for a TV show, I either need to watch it when it first airs or stay off Twitter or FaceBook.

I don’t expect the world NOT to read, review, or react, so if it’s going to bother me, I purposefully prioritize my viewing or stay away from those areas where folks who already saw it are talking about it. I’m not going to get upset, or angry, if I’m “spoiled” for something that is already out there. Frankly, at that point, it’s not fair to tell people they cannot talk about a show or book. At a certain point, “Anne marries Gilbert” doesn’t need spoiler warnings.

When I’m spoiled like this, I take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I would have enjoyed an unknowing reading/viewing experience, it doesn’t ruin the overall enjoyment of the book, film, or TV show. Also? Such spoiling isn’t done on purpose. And sometimes? Those spoilers push me to read or watch something. Reading how people loved Leslie Knope and her marriage to Ben wasn’t a “spoiler” to what happened, but rather a reason to start watching a show to find out just why people love Leslie.

That said, what I hate with a passion is deliberately ruining another person’s experience; in other words, removing that choice and pushing that information onto them. Especially when it’s done in a mean context. For an example of what I mean, take a look at the Urban Dictionary entry on Snape Kills Dumbledore.

Aha, you may say! You just spoiled that for people! Except look, here, at the forum: I’m an adult writing for adults, within a specific industry (children’s and young adult books), and so I think that the majority of people here know that already. I’m not writing at a place aimed at ten-year-olds who are new to the Harry Potter world.

Context. Intent. It actually does matter.

These are things that I think about when I write posts about books, and I try to not reveal spoilers, or at least to mark them as such. I think, what did I like discovering on my own? Can I not reveal it? On the other hand, sometimes that is exactly what makes the book worth discussing so it has to be revealed to be talked about. Upon occasion, I’ve even split the review into two parts, so that readers can have the choice on how “spoiled” they want to be about a title.

Here’s another example, and now I’m assuming, again, a certain shared knowledge so that what I’m about to say is not a spoiler to you. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. In part, it’s about a girl recovering from a rape. (It’s also about depression). When you booktalk this to an audience that is not familiar with this title at all — so, to young teens — do you tell them it’s about a rape? Or, since Melinda herself takes her time before revealing this to the reader, do you just say something bad happened?

When someone says they haven’t watched Games of Thrones, do you say “wait until you see when so-and-so dies?” I see a difference between that, and between someone happening upon an article, post, or comment talking about what happened in the first season.

So, what are your opinions on Spoilers?

Is it different for shows and books?

What about the passage of time?

Does the audience matter — is it OK to spoil adults but not children and teens?

Does it matter what type of book it is? (I haven’t even touched on how spoilers may be worse for certain types of books, like mysteries!)

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Laura says:

    I agree with you about context: when I’m booktalking, I’ll try to leave a cliffhanger in, or obscure details to entice readers, even if it’s an older book. But if I’m talking with someone closer to my age, who probably read the book when it came out (or watched the movie/tv series) I’m less careful…

  2. Maureen E says:

    Quite often I’m not bothered by spoilers–I’ve been known to read the TV.com synopsis of an episode while I’m watching it. But for certain books, it really does matter; with Code Name Verity, for instance, I made a very conscious decision to read no reviews before I read the book. I also made a huge effort to cut out spoilers in my own review, because it’s the kind of book where that could matter.

    In general, I would say it’s the plots–book, movie, or TV–where there’s a BIG TWIST. I don’t want to know the twist, because that takes all of the surprise out of it. And sometimes those books are un-re-readable (a thing I rarely say!) because the emotional core of the story relies so heavily on that twist. On the other hand, I have re-read CNV several times and didn’t feel lit lost anything. I even enjoy rereading an Agatha Christie as long as I don’t remember the entire plot.

    But I think you’re right–a lot of it comes down to choice on the reader/viewer’s part. I choose to look at that episode synopsis. My manager hasn’t seen the end of the last Doctor Who series yet, so I try to remember to be careful what I say to her when we’re talking about Who. Mistakes happen, and that’s understandable or should be. I have seen a few instances recently of a “How DARE you spoil me!” attitude, which–okay, I can’t keep track of what everyone I know on the internet has or has not seen/read. Should we do our best to avoid spoiling other people? Sure, it’s polite. But if it does happen accidentally, that should probably be taken into account too. Willful spoiling is another thing entirely, or even completely clueless spoiling, like Donna Jo Napoli’s Battle of the Books post. People were, rightly, upset that she revealed one of CNV’s big twists.

    So maybe there’s also an order of magnitude for spoilers? If I say that Anne stays with the Cuthberts, that’s not a huge spoiler; it’s fairly obvious given the title that she will. If I say that Matthew dies at the end of the book (sob), that is a much larger spoiler that could really change someone’s reading experience.

    I did think that the trailer I saw for Ender’s Game (when I went to see Star Trek) verged on the spoilery, which made me wonder if 1) they didn’t realize that or didn’t care or 2) assumed that people know the big twist already and they can spoil with impunity?

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Maureen, I’ll avoid reviews of books I want to read because I don’t want to get spoiled.

      And I think it matters who you are talking to about Matthew — if someone has just begun to read Anne, you just don’t tell them that. Why would you? But if you and I are talking about Anne and mention Matthew’s death (say on Twitter or FB), that’s OK. It’s just a conversation; it’s odd that it’s more permanent than other conversations are but it’s stil OK.

      Trailers that give everything away are just weird.

  3. This cracked me up: At a certain point, “Anne marries Gilbert” doesn’t need spoiler warnings. :)

    I try to avoid sharing huge spoilers in my reviews or book talks, especially if I’m discussing a book (or film/play/TV show) that is a mystery or thriller and those reveals are important.

    However, if someone is telling me about a movie/book/etc that I haven’t seen yet and I don’t plan to read it/see it, I’ll tell them, “Spoil it for me.”

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I tried to pick a spoiler that wouldn’t get anyone hating on me!

      In conversations, i’ll say “it’s OK to spoil me” (or end the convo saying “oh i’ll watch it tonight” or some such.

      Though in my family we do have this thing: at the start of a film or series that one of us has watched, where death is feared, we’ll say “is it OK if I like this person? OK if I get attached?”. So technically yes — we are asking for spoilers.

  4. Jen Robinson says:

    I tend to really dislike spoilers in my reading and TV-watching, but I also tend to feel that it’s my responsibility to avoid them. So, if I’m behind on a TV series, I won’t read the article in TV Guide about last week’s show. And i”ve really mastered the art of skimming reviews to figure out if I want to read the book, while learning as little about it as possible. I try pretty hard to avoid spoilers in my MG/YA reviews – I’m less concerned about picture books, because they are so much shorter (it’s not a big investment to read it knowing how it ends).

    Interesting stuff!

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      My problem w/ delayed watching of films and TV shows is that often I’m way delayed. Like, better to wait six months or so, so I don’t see the spoilers or it’s so long ago that I don’t remember it. BUT then what happens? I watch it and then I have to seek out the articles from earlier, for interviews and making-of stories, which I love.

  5. Jan says:

    I’m quite upset about the Ender’s Game film spoiling the book for future readers. As a long time school librarian and English teacher, I loved each and every time when a student said to me – this was the best book ever! And then we shared knowing conversation about the ending. I used to make my students swear not to tell each other the ending. It was part of the fun and reading experience – both individually and collectively. Why do we want to spoil that aha moment when the reader says to himself – what just happened – and then goes back and rereads it just to make sure?

    I read the last 30 pages or so of the last Harry Potter and then immediately reread it again. These are magical moments in a reading life.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      it’s funny, how film can change the experience with a book. if the film doesn’t do well, it disappears. Or then there is the Dark is Rising which is so different, it’s OK, I think.

      With HP, I loved rereading having finished the last book, because it showed so many things that JKR put in earlier books with purpose, that seemed like a throwaway line or person but really meant so much more.

  6. Erica says:

    I’m usually okay with getting spoiled, especially if it’s about something I’m not sure I’ll get around to watching / finishing / reading. That said, the one thing that bugs me to no end is when a trailer or review or whatnot mentions – or indeed makes a great to-do about – a plot twist. Not necessarily that they reveal what the twist is, but just *that there is a twist in the first place*. If I know there’s a twist, I’ll be trying to figure it out the whole time; it will only work AS A TWIST if I don’t know it’s coming.

    So… Dear trailers / book reviews: Knock it the heck off. I know it’s tempting to use the easy thing to get my attention, but the writer’s intentions will be way more effective if I’m unprepared.

    • Erica says:

      (I realize that if I wanted to be completely unspoiled about anything I could just, y’know, not watch trailers or pre-read reviews, but I do sometimes like to know at least a vague plotline before I make the commitment to read something.) (Or maybe I could just suck it up and resign myself to either a life of twist-spoils or just going into things blind. THE PAIN.)

      • Elizabeth Burns says:

        When a trailer is a mini-version of the movie, I’m like — why? Why show me the entire film in 3 minutes? I love those trailers that are just hints at the movie.

        What really bugs me? When the copy on the book is too spoilery. Like, I want to read the book! Don’t give away important things on the cover!

  7. I *always* read the end of a book when I’m about 1/3 of the way through…otherwise, I get so anxious and start reading WAY too quickly. The only exceptions are books I read on my e-reader b/c it’s so difficult to flip back and forth. I love a good spoiler…so much so that I’ll get online to read a spoiler before a big season finale or reality reveal show. It just makes me happy to know where the storyline is going :)

  8. MotherReader says:

    My biggest dilemma with spoilers is when there is an issue of the appropriate audience of a book, but yet I don’t want to spoil it for readers of the review. I imagine a middle school librarian trying to figure out what kind of YA this book is, and tend toward assuming knowing the content is more important than not spoiling it.

    Yet, I also avoid reviews of a book that I want to read without other opinions. So I want it both ways.

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