Do Plot Spoilers Really Matter? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about plot spoilers today (so expect a couple in this article). This is mostly because I was introduced to the novel I’m currently reading (“A Canticle For Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr.) by a really interesting “Extra Sci Fi” Youtube video which pretty much spells out every major plot point and theme of the novel. Yet, despite these major plot spoilers – or rather because of them – I actually tracked down a copy of the novel and started reading it.

But why would I want to read a novel when I already know how it is going to end? Well, in the case of this book, it is more about the journey than the destination. I was so intrigued by the descriptions of the setting and the general concept of the book that I wanted to learn more about it, to see it “in action”, so to speak. Yet, with some other types of story, I’d probably find too many plot spoilers to be incredibly annoying.

In short, plot spoilers tend to matter more when there are twists or mysteries in a story. The whole point of – say – a detective novel or a thriller – is to uncover a mystery, to be astonished by new information and to follow every unpredictable direction that the plot might take. This is also why these novels tend to be a little less re-readable than novels in other genres. Because their stories rely so heavily on the reader not knowing things, they tend to lose some of their impact if you already know what will happen.

Yet, even then, a certain level of spoilers can actually make these stories more interesting – provided that the spoiler raises more questions than it answers (and therefore deepens the mystery).

For example, I binge-read a copy of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” about eleven years ago, purely because someone pointed out that it is a detective novel that ends with all of the main characters dying. I thought “how is this even possible?” and was curious enough to read the whole book in a single night.

Because I’d heard a major plot “spoiler”, but didn’t have any information about how or why it happened, I wanted to find out more. Without this intriguing spoiler, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about reading this brilliantly creepy mystery novel.

But, going back to what I was saying earlier, spoilers are at their very best when they are for stories that aren’t entirely about the plot. In other words, novels with intriguing settings, interesting ideas/concepts, an interesting writing style, fascinating characters or unusual subject matter. These are stories where a mere description of what happens doesn’t really do justice to the actual experience of reading the novel for yourself. Here, a spoiler gives you an intriguing idea of what to expect and then says “Go on, find out more”.

In other words, the more creative a story is, the less that spoilers matter.

When a story is more about the journey than the destination, then spoilers act more like a “teaser” trailer than some kind of horrible, mean-spirited thing that drains all of the joy from the story. They give you a hint of what kind of things to expect and then make you actually want to see it for yourself.

So, yes, spoilers aren’t always a bad thing. Yes, major spoilers should often be avoided in the detective and thriller genres, but – with many other genres – they can actually make a story more interesting, especially if it is a rather creative one. Still, it’s usually polite to include some kind of warning before spoiling a story, since I’m sure that my views on the subject aren’t shared by everyone.

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Sorry for the short, rambling article – but I hope it was interesting 🙂

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