Spoilers!

Posted 7 March, 2016 by Nikki in General / 23 Comments

I seem to be rather odd in fandom in general in that I don’t care about spoilers — in fact, I actually quite like them. That puts me in line with what studies suggest, though: the University of California, San Diego did a study a while ago which took stories and gave them to naive participants (i.e. participants who hadn’t read the stories before) in two categories. One lot of the participants got a spoiler paragraph first; the other lot didn’t. And with stories that have ironic twists, mystery stories and literary stories, every single one showed the same result.

People enjoyed the stories more when they knew what was coming.

Without looking at the studies, I have a couple of theories about that. One is simply anxiety. I am an anxiously inclined person and I can end up utterly stymied with a book, not wanting to read further because I know something bad is about to happen… and I don’t know if things turn out right, whether I should be hopeful or not. But when I know the outcome, I can read the story fine. Sometimes when I’m struggling to read something (or even watch something), I ask for spoilers, or flip to the back of the book.

But there’s a lot more people without that kind of anxiety, I would guess, and for them I have a theory too — connected to one reason I like to reread books: you know what’s going to happen, and you can see the skill of the author in shaping the outcome. If it’s a question of Chekhov’s gun, you can spot the gun and feel clever; you’re reading on a different level. You can still be surprised by how things turn out, but probably you already know whether it’s the kind of story you want to read or not.

The weird thing is that people pretty consistently think they don’t like spoilers, and I wonder if that’s a social thing — “you’ll never believe what’s going to happen!” The whole idea that anticipation is going to make it better.

How about you? Spoilers, no spoilers? Thinking about experimenting with this now?

And will someone please have pity and tell me whether The Winner’s Kiss ends well for Arin and Kestrel?

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23 Responses to “Spoilers!”

  1. I suffer from depression and anxiety issues but I HATE spoilers in reviews I plan to read (or films/TV I plan to watch!) I want to enjoy the excitement of reading the book without knowing every twist and shock so I can guess what could be coming then gasp at something unexpected. If I knew all the main plot spoilers, I just wouldn’t bother reading the book. I wouldn’t see the point in wasting two days on it if I know what is going to happen. I’d spend the time instead on something else. I always warn when my review has a spoiler so people can make a choice whether to read on. I only put a spoiler in if it is something I must discuss to demonstrate why I love or hate the book/character/plot etc.

    • It’s interesting how many responses I’ve got to this by people who don’t like spoilers! I wonder if the study picked a subset of people or something. I try and do the same re: warning people; I wouldn’t want to spoil someone else’s experience, just because I want to know. But sometimes I wish people would do more spoiler reviews!

  2. Mianaai

    It depends, for me – I actually care less about plot spoilers and more about setting/character spoilers, especially in SF/F. For example, in the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie, I was really glad that I went in spoiler-free (I didn’t even read the back of the book blurb) because the notion of who Breq is was just. so. cool. However, I wouldn’t have been upset about plot spoilers past that.

    Like you, I’ll occasionally actively seek out spoilers if something comes up that has the potential to upset me – that helps me decide whether to keep reading/watching and occasionally I’ll put aside a book for a while and pick it up when I’m in a better headspace to deal with whatever it is. It’s also the rare book that can actually surprise me with a plot twist, even unspoiled, so I do enjoy surprises in books when they occur, as long as they aren’t the “surprise! character death!” sort.

    So – my relationship to spoilers is pretty complex. I generally try to go into books completely clean other than maybe a non-spoiler review from someone I trust, but I have no problem with seeking out spoilers once I’ve started reading if I detect something upsetting.

    • Ha, I totally read a bunch of negative and positive reviews to prime myself for reading a book! I think I spoilered myself on Ancillary Justice, but sometimes when I trust the author I go without — I didn’t spoiler myself for Ancillary Sword or Ancillary Mercy at all.

  3. I love spoilers in reviews. In fact, I look for them when deciding whether I want to read a book or not. And I love re-reading old favorites, even though I know what is going to happen. It is like meeting old friends.

  4. arbieroo

    I like the best of both worlds; no spoilers on first reading and appreciating all the foreshadowing on subsequent readings.

  5. Ooh, I hate spoilers XD Which is weird because I am an anxious person and for EVERYTHING else in my life I want “spoilers” (or, ya know, warning what’s going to happen). hehe. But for movies? Movies I am 100% onboard with spoilers. I happily read synopsises beforehand or get someone to tell me the ending. Which is weird of me considering how opposed I am to them in books! 😛

    • This is why I read Winter Soldier and Civil War in advance of getting involved in the Avengers movie fandom! I had to know the worst of what was to come…

  6. It’s interesting that you connect spoilers to anxiety, because I am also quite anxious, and yet I hate spoilers! Almost invariably, if I know something that’s going to happen in a book–a romantic pairing or a specific event or anything like that–I will find myself bored, confused, or at least impatient waiting for it to happen. Sometimes I enjoy the book anyway (Pride and Prejudice is a strong example, and romance novels in general, since will-they-or-won’t-they isn’t really the point), and sometimes anticipation of the spoiler seems to diminish my enjoyment (the recent example that comes to mind is The Turn of the Screw).

    I think the reason spoilers bother me and rereads don’t is that when I’ve already read a book once, I have a sense of its structure–I may remember that something happens, but I also remember (even if subconsciously) where in the book it happens.

    And maybe it’s the predictability of structure, at least to me, that keeps my anxiety from interfering much with reading. Even a few months ago, I recall reading a book and being almost certain the dog was going to die (he didn’t), and while that would have made me angry and throw the book away, I didn’t feel anxiety about it. Or maybe it’s just because I know it’s fiction, and I can recall an excellent book in which cats die and which caused me great anxiety. Anyway, to get back around to my point, I know that books take away my anxiety much more than they cause it, because I once tried to do The Artist’s Way and for one week of the program, you are supposed to read nothing at all. I had the worst anxiety that week.

    And now I can’t read the other comments to this post for fear that someone will spoil the Winner’s trilogy for me!

    • See, for me I’m as interested in figuring out the how it happens as the what happens, so for me that takes the place of the suspense, I think.

      Alas, still no one telling me how the trilogy ends!

  7. I prefer to avoid spoilers if I can, but at the same time I wouldn’t flip out or get angry if I get spoiled. And honestly, I’d still be just as excited to read the book. Most of the time, my memory for plot details is so poor that I forget the spoiler by the time I read the story anyway, which is what usually happens. The reason I try not to read reviews for books I’m about to read soon has less to do with fear of spoilers, and more to do with the fact I don’t want any biases or expectations to color my own experience, so in that case I want to go in blind.
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    • Haha, my partner is blessed with a memory like that. Sometimes I’ve had her find out spoilers for me and she doesn’t remember them by the time she gets to them herself, which works out just fine.

  8. I don’t like spoilers at all. Especially not when it comes to TV series or movies – I find those even worse than book spoilers. I love the anxiety of not knowing what will come next.

  9. Kathleen

    I don’t mind spoilers, but I don’t necessarily seek them out. The two exceptions to this are triggers–I have to know if there’s something in a piece of media that could trigger me, so I can either mentally gird my loins or set it aside for another day–and Star Wars, because Star Wars is very much a childhood nostalgia thing for me, and I want to see the movies in the theater with my daddy with no idea what’s going to happen, because that’s just the Star Wars experience for me. Everything else? Take it or leave it, I don’t much care.

    • I think I get infected by the anxiety of characters about what’s going to happen, so that’s what bothers me. Like if someone is held captive — gah, makes me want to pace up and down my own room!

      • Kathleen

        Oh, I can definitely understand that! One of my triggers is explicit depiction of anxiousness or depressive thoughts, because that can make ME get sympathetically anxious or depressed. So, totally right there with you, though probably in a slightly different way.

  10. It’s really interesting, isn’t it, this thing about spoilers and whether one likes or loathes them. Do you think most of the world can be divided up into one camp or other?

    My further thoughts on spoilers (you know my previous notions from http://wp.me/s2oNj1-spoilers) is about plots. All that stuff about the seven ‘basic’ plots — Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth — means that we mostly have expectations about how things will end in most simply-told fictions. The more plots the story contains the more chances there are of us not guessing where things will end. Even biographies and autobiographies often buy into these plotlines, which is why we can feel unsatisfied by a straightforward account of the ups and downs of somebody’s life — we don’t know where things are going. I think when we have more uncomfortable fictions where we can’t second-guess which plot is paramount (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was one such, for me as well as for you) it is tempting to check ahead. If on the other hand it’s a Famous Five story, well, we’re not going to bother, are we!

    Not sure why I’ve gone on at length about it, Nikki, when I could have stuck it in a new post — I might still do that!

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