No, really, it doesn’t. If it did, there would have been a warning.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I try to be careful about spoilers. I provide what I hope is enough advance notice if I’m going to be talking about a story’s plot in detail so that readers who don’t want to know about it ahead of time can exercise appropriate caution. The reverse is also true: I try to reassure people when I don’t discuss spoilers so that they can read freely. It’s just the polite thing to do and something that nearly all fandoms and forums agree on: don’t spoil if you can help it, but if you can’t avoid it, at least tag it as such.
Personally, though? I don’t have a problem with spoilers. In fact, there are times when I will actively seek them out.
It depends on the case, of course. If I’m a late arrival to a series and need to get up to speed, I’ll watch or read it while supplementing my experience with spoilers. If it’s something like Doctor Who or a comic book with upwards of 50 years of publication history, I’ll consult a wiki. If I’ve started something and don’t like it enough to finish it but still want to know how it ends, I’ll look up the ending to give myself some closure. If it’s not something I would watch or read but am kind of curious about—I can’t stomach horror movies, for instance, but the stuff horror writers come up with fascinates me to no end—I’ll read about it. If I’m on the fence about picking something up, I’ll read reviews, which by their very nature can spoil the plot. If it’s a video game and have no idea how to proceed in the storyline, you bet I’m going to look it up. The rest of the time, there probably isn’t even a reason: I just felt like it.
About the only time I won’t go looking for spoilers is if it’s something I’m deeply invested in. Even then, I don’t take any real precautions against finding out what happens. This is the age of the internet: if you want to avoid hearing about something, you need to go really, really far out of your way.
This attitude toward spoilers seems to make me something of an anomaly. A lot of my friends will completely abstain from social media if they watch a popular show and didn’t get a chance to watch the latest episode. I’ve witnessed people block or unfriend others on Facebook for revealing plot details, even if it’s a day or two after an episode airs or is an adaptation of something else (Game of Thrones in particular seems to do this to people). I’ve tried to discuss the plots of my manuscripts with others only for them to tell me not to tell them until after they’re published and they’ve read them. I’m even married to one of these people: my husband will avert his eyes from teaser trailers and merchandise in stores and leave the room while literally reciting the entire Gettysburg Address if I’m so much as summarizing a plot in case something gets spoiled.
It’s not just individual people, either. The people who watched the first season of Stranger Things when it aired are all extremely careful to avoid talking about it. Even some creators ask that you don’t spoil their work: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 adaptation of Psycho famously changed the face of the film industry with its “no late admissions” policy. Critics were not given their own screenings, audiences were advised after the film’s conclusion not to give away the ending, and Hitchcock allegedly bought every copy of the book that he could to avoid audiences learning about the plot before setting foot in a theater.
In any case, the reasoning for the fierce protection of plot elements always seems to be that knowing something ahead of time will “ruin” the entire story or experience. And really, it can be kind of exhilarating to go into an experience and not know what’s going to happen next. Novelty isn’t an experience that I get very often, as I’m almost always late to the party when it comes to the latest thing everyone’s watching (I’m better about keeping up with what people are reading), and I see the appeal.
Maybe this is another one of those things that can be explained away with “I’m a writer,” but my reason for liking spoilers comes down to appreciating the craft of storytelling. Mysteries are fun, but so is dramatic irony: knowing what’s coming means you can details together that you might not have noticed otherwise and truly appreciate the work that went into putting the narrative together. Knowing the source material before diving into an adaptation means that you know what’s going to happen and can examine the changes and whether or not they work. I’m someone that will watch or read the same thing many times over not just because I love certain stories or creators, but because I can find all of the little things that I never noticed or appreciated before. This is part of the reason why psychologists found out that spoilers enhance the enjoyment of a story.
I’ve been asked before if I would be ok if someone only flipped to the back of my book to learn how it ended, revealed the major plot twists, looked at spoilers before even buying the book, or otherwise spoiled the plot in a major way for themselves or someone else. For one thing, as long as the internet still exists by the time I publish a book (and I’m fairly confident that it will), it’s inevitable that someone will do that, so it’s not even a matter of “if.” And for another thing, as long as someone bought and enjoyed the book, I don’t particularly care how they do it.
All I really hope is that people are nice and polite about spoilers if they use them and don’t force them on people who don’t want them. Seriously, I think I’ve watched friendships end over Game of Thrones spoilers. Don’t be that person.
So writers and non-writers alike: what’s your take on spoilers? Is a surprise worth protecting or is a twist even better the second time around?