Spoilers

I’ve always been that guy that turns to the end of the book to find out what happens. I did this with every Harry Potter book, from the first one when I read it at 10, to the last one which I read at 18. In between, I was constantly scouring the web for information on what happens in the next book. I look for information about movies that are coming out that I’m excited for, and I avidly read reviews of books and movies before I buy them.

It’s a sickness. Really, I need help for it.

But in case you haven’t guessed it, one thing I don’t mind is spoilers. 99 times out of 100, I love them. Every once in a while, there’s a movie or book that I just don’t want ruined. And most short fiction I don’t need a blow-by-blow because, probably, the author will tell me better than you and in less time. But because of that, I’ve always been a little insensitive to people who are just scared to death of spoilers.

I just don’t get it. Who cares? But people apparently do. And according to a UC San Diego study, spoilers can actually make people enjoy stories more. This makes total sense to me. If I like a movie, I’m going to watch it again. And if I enjoy a movie better the first time than I do the second time, I don’t think very highly of that movie.

Books too, but because of the more time-consuming nature of reading a novel (time-consuming is not a negative in this case), I don’t reread things as often as I rewatch movies. But again, if the only thing a book had going for it was its element of surprise, that’s kind of a weak book.

Maybe a better example would be mysteries. I love mystery movies, TV shows, books, everything. But what I love about Holmes and Nero Wolfe and Castle are the way they interact with their colleagues. I’m interested in the intellectual mystery that’s going on, sure, and I want that to be good. But really, every storyline in each of those is the same. Detective encounters crime. Detective collects clues. Detective solves crime. I’m often surprised by the twists and turns, but I’m not looking for shock and awe.

I think what the NPR article says about a lot of the spoiler-heavy nature of modern drama being the fault of Lost is probably pretty close. Lost changed the way a lot of things are done in that sort of long-distance storytelling. But you’ve got The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects to blame too. (And by the way, without the twist ending, The Usual Suspects doesn’t hold up too well.)

Personally, I think it’s much more important to let ourselves fall into whatever plotline the artist has for us, whether that’s a filmmaker, TV writer, or novelist, and see what we can do. You don’t need to go spoiler-crazy like me, but calm down when we tell you that Planet of the Apes takes place on a future earth. Seriously, I knew before I saw it, and it’s still one of my favorite science fiction movies.

Sidenote: I totally have that shirt at the top of the NPR article. The “Snape Kills Dumbledore” business pissed off so many people before the Half-Blood Prince movie came out. Take that!

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58 responses to “Spoilers

  1. Good post! I’m another who will watch a good flick multiple times. Part of the enjoyment of the initial viewing, though, includes not knowing in advance how it will resolve itself. Then, in subsequent viewings, you’re looking for stuff you might have missed, misunderstood, or just taking in the artistry of the cinematography, the intensity of the action, or the marvel of the script.

  2. i think it really depends on a person, i dont think the study means everyone might enjoy something more because of the spoilers because i am one of those people who hate it when some one ruins a book that i am currently reading.. with movies it doesnt really matter to me, i will enjoy it anyhow whether there are spoilers or not, but because i love reading and i love my books mysterious and with a lot of twists and turns i just dont want to know what is going to happen.. I never read a book which when i read the blab i feel like i already know everything which will happen in it because 99% out of 100 i will know whats next trough out the entire book and that really bored me… i am a book freak and would never check out the last page before i finish all the other ones because i want to enjoy and experience every little part of the book with out the ending hanging in the back of my mind.. lol but my sister is just like you, she goes and checks out the last page first.. :-D

    • It’s funny, I try to avoid reading the end, but usually around a third of the way through a book, I just have to see what’s going on.

      But I get your point about it not being true for everyone. I know I’m in the minority about spoilers, and I try to avoid being too spoiler-y when I’m talking to people unless they say it’s OK. I just don’t get it and wish some people would lighten-up, haha.

  3. As a writer myself (though my genre is non-fiction, not fiction), I wonder if the authors ever write the story with the idea in mind that people will read/research/share spoilers. I think it might change the outcome — or at least, the path to the outcome — in some instances.

    • I wonder, though, if a born spoiler guy or gal wouldn’t find it intriguing to read something like Julio Cortazar’s novel “Hopscotch,” in which the chapters can be read in any order, or Italo Calvino’s novel “If on a winter’s night a traveller,” a book totally composed of beginning chapters–what do you think?

  4. She says: I agree. don’t mind spoilers either. But I can tell you that I learned from my husband why spoilers drive him crazy — he sees everything like a sport. He has a high need to stay engaged in the story like a sport — never knowing what can happen next. Interesting, isn’t it? So now I know that’s how it is for him and probably others, too.

    • That is interesting. Especially since, for me, the more engaged in a story I am, the more likely I am to turn to the last page. If it’s just an average mystery novel, I’m intellectually interested and probably won’t skip ahead, but if I’m emotionally invested in the characters, I need to know ASAP how things turn out.

  5. That really made me laugh! I think I know what you mean, especially when you referenced that ‘spoilers make people enjoy stories more’ – I don’t know if this applies but Escape from Alcatraz I thought was incredible. The title spoiled the film but I couldn’t stop watching it and would watch it again. I too am often tempted to have a flick through the end, and I don’t know why!

  6. As a kid, I used to read those “Choose Your Ending” series of books. Id always end up reading all the endings to a plot and loved spoiling the storyline. I think it was good practice for a future writer to consider more than one way to conclude a story. Thx for sharing.

    • I started reading a little too late for those, but I found a couple at a rummage sale once and felt like I’d struck gold. A book that let’s me choose what happens?! No. Way.

      I know what you mean about writing too. I’ve also wondered if those books had an influence on my love of metafiction.

  7. My husband won’t even watch “next week on…” previews because he considers them spoilers. I love getting little snippets of what’s to come…for TV or movies. I don’t mind someone explaining a book to me, but I refuse to read the last page. I think it’s because I write and I know how hard it is to craft the whole thing. Not that TV shows or movies are simple…I just don’t have the experience of creating them.

    Once, I wrote a story for a friend once and asked her what she thought. She said she didn’t have time to read it, but liked the last page. I was so upset. I just toiled for months to get the right words and I took her flipping to the last page as saying she didn’t care. Obviously, that was a bit personal. But that idea has stuck with me.

  8. I am the same way about spoilers. Even for sports games I have on DVR, I still end up checking out the score and not watching the recorded version. I will also flip to the end of a book, but I still read the book. The only thing I do not have the spoiler problem with are movies. That’s the only thing. Nice post.

    • Thanks! Yeah, it’s actually hit-or-miss with movies for me. There are some things that I do want to experience from beginning to end without knowing much. But generally, I’m just as excited to find out what actor is playing what villain in the upcoming superhero movie, and the movies I don’t want spoiled usually don’t have those kinds of gossip articles.

  9. So there’s one other person on this planet who doesn’t mind spoilers either. I see their point: once you’re “spoiled”, you can’t ever experience that moment of surprise, but conversely, everyone ever knows about “Say hello to my little friend!” in Scarface, and you spend the whole movie waiting to hear it, it makes it better. Not a proper spoiler, really, but I think the principle still applies. Thank you though, I needed a little solidarity on this.

    Oh, and Snape killed Dumbledore was hilarious.

  10. The “spoiler effect” is an issue I’ve dealt with several times in writing my blog. While I generally agree with you that if a novel or a short story (or whatever) has adequate quality on its side, you read not for the suspense of the ending (though that may be a plus if you haven’t looked ahead), but for the experience, the journey, of the reading. I’ve read some books many, many times and love them every time. Still, when writing about a short story for my readers, I feel the need to avoid as much as possible telling the ending, because part of the actual form of the short story relies not so much upon suspense as upon the twist ending leaving the reader speechless the first time. If the ending is sufficiently surprising, I even suppress it in novels I’m writing about. And then, if the reader is lucky and it’s a good story, the story takes hold and the reader allows it to acquire a hold on him or her such that the reader is always recommending the story to other people, also without revealing the ending (a really good story for this sort of handling is the story “A Jury of Her Peers”). You’re right that being a spoiler may be a disease, but so is the the opposite extreme, being an “anal fascist” about not revealing the ghost of a hint of an ending. I try to avoid that tendency too–for one thing, it has a more disgusting label than “spoiler!”

    • Definitely. I try not to spoil things for people unnecessarily (that t-shirt I mentioned really hasn’t upset more than 4 or 5 people in the three years I’ve worn it). I think a bigger issue though is that some people view ANY knowledge of the plot of a work as a spoiler, and I just don’t get that.

      Thanks for your comment!

  11. Gotta say, I hate reading the end of a book first. I remember when the fifth Harry Potter book came out, I was in primary school and we were banned from telling people who died. As I’m a fast reader this was hard for as I had to wait at least a week before I got to talk about it.
    Films are different, quite often they’re based on books so most people know what happens anyway.
    I agree that detective books/tv shows are all very similar. With books I can see why knowing ‘who done it’ doesn’t ruin the read but tv shows loose their suspense if you know before hand. I think it’s because most of the time it’s sqeezed into an hour show.

    • See, for me it’s different. Usually, I can guess within a few minutes of an episode who did it, or that this character ruined that character’s life, and if it’s handled well, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to know how the characters figure it out. And shows I’ve watched with big reveals like Lost didn’t impress me as much for the shock factor as for the enjoyment of seeing the drama unfold.

      But really, that’s just me.

      Thanks for the comment!

  12. OK, you have me confessing. Halfway through a book, especially if it begins plodding, I’ll leap ahead to the final pages.
    If the ending makes complete sense at that point, I’ll often call it a day and move on to another work. Too often, I’ve found, the second half of a work is essentially filler.
    If, on the other hand, the ending makes no sense in light of only the first half, I’ll recognize that the remainder of the volume is likely full of essential additional insights and twists that will compel my continued reading. This never spoils my appreciation, but indeed heightens it as I wonder just how the author is going to navigate the intervening pages. (Assuming, of course, we’re dealing with a skilled writer and thinker.)
    Yes, I know, the plot is, after all, only part of a good novel. But everything else hangs on its beat.

  13. I’m not a fan of spoilers. I don’t like to know what happens, especially before I read a book. But my husband is the opposite. The second the Harry Potter books arrived on our doorstep, he’d physically wrestle me for them and trying to flip through it to see who died this time or what was going to happen. We had to compromise, with me allowing him to look and him promising not to tell me.

  14. Interesting post, and good topic! I’m one of those people you probably don’t understand: I avoid spoilers. I don’t threaten to maim or kill people who reveal them, but I’m definitely annoyed if someone starts yapping away about what happens and I haven’t experienced it for myself yet. I was pretty much obsessed with Lost, and while I would indulge spoiler articles to glean a general sense of what was ahead, I never wanted to know too much. When the final Harry Potter book came out, I had to make sure I read the entire thing that first weekend, out of concern that Harry’s fate or some other big reveal would be plastered all over the web come Monday morning.

    A movie, book, show, etc. needs to have more going on beyond its twists and surprises, and I definitely agree that if a story is good, you will enjoy it whether or not you know the ending. But still, the first time you experience a story is a unique experience. Surely you can appreciate that some people want to be open to that element of surprise. The Sixth Sense, The Crying Game, The Sting…these are all great movies that retain plenty of “watchability” even after you know how they end, but to experience them the first time without knowing what’s going to happen is no less important or valid just because the movies have other good qualities that can continually be enjoyed after the surprise is known. That has to be respected, don’t you think?

    In fact, I disagree with you about The Usual Suspects, which I feel is a great example of exactly what you’re talking about. To me, it holds up remarkably well beyond the twist. The first time I saw it, I was blown away by the ending. But subsequent viewings were just as enjoyable – in a different way – because I got to revel in the details of the story and see how the director was setting us up. Plus, Kevin Spacey’s performance can’t be fully appreciated without seeing it a second time. I’ve watched that movie more times than I can count, and I still love it.

    So I think you’re right when you say that stories need to work well and entertain you regardless of whether you know ahead of time what happens. But I think people wanting to avoid spoilers and discover the story that first time for themselves is completely legitimate and understandable.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thank you, and thanks for your comment!

      And you’re absolutely right. A person does have the right to go into a movie without knowing every detail. I may have come across as being more grumpy about spoilers than I actually am in this post. I totally get the desire to experience something fresh, and sometimes, if I hear a movie or book is really good and know that it’s science fiction or deals with deep moral dilemmas or whatever, sometimes, that’s all I want to know going in. I love sitting down to a movie knowing only that it did well at Sundance or Cannes, or to a book that’s great for fans of a favorite author.

      What I don’t get is how knowing that someone disliked the ending can ruin an experience of a movie for someone (such as a friend told me recently). That just seems silly to me. I can’t express my opinion or talk about how I liked a scene at such-and-such a place because it’ll ruin his perception of it? And the reason I don’t get the is that I’m obsessed with knowing what happens. I want to know the answer to the mysteries faster than I can read, or sooner than the next movie or next episode comes out.

      As for the movies you mentioned, I actually had all three spoiled for me before I saw them and still really enjoyed two of them (I still haven’t seen The Crying Game). So I would have liked to see them fresh, but I never got the chance. But knowing is a great way to watch The Sixth Sense, for sure. But I’m biased and unable to prove it.

  15. I don’t know about enjoying the stories/movies more if you know how it all turns out. It totally ruined The Sixth Sense for me as well as The Dark Knight Rises. I’m all about the twist and the shock value and all that.

    Good post. Congrats on getting on Freshly Pressed!

    • Thanks so much!

      That’s interesting. I had The Sixth Sense spoiled for me and I still watch it once a year or so.

      Ha, I guess we just look for different things in our movies!

  16. Haha, I enjoyed this very much as I am very similar. It reminds me of Billy Crystal in “When Harry met Sally.” I will actually research (spoilers and all) a tv series before I start watching it. It brings more satisfaction for some reason.

    PS…I attended the midnight release party for “The Half Blood Prince” and a guy shouted out, “Dumbledore dies!” He literally got tackled. Funniest thing I have ever seen.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      Yeah, a friend of mine did the same for that book and apparently there was a girl sobbing at the front of the store while he stood in line, telling no one in particular that Dumbledore dies. Talking about a mega-hit book five years after it’s released is one thing, but ruining it on the night it’s released is just unfair!

  17. I agree with you, I’m a spoiler hound! I Really Want to Know what’s gonna happen!
    However, Hubby HATES spoilers and avoids them at all costs. It’s to the point he won’t watch trailers for some movies because they tend to be FULL of spoilers!
    Did you used to carefully open your Christmas presents to see what you got, then carefully repackage them? I did!

    • Oh, yes. I even knew where they were hidden and would sneak in and look weeks before Christmas! It got so bad that one year, my grandma wrapped everything extra-tight and wrote numbers on the gifts instead of names, so I wouldn’t know which was mine.

      Like I said, I have a problem.

      Thanks for the comment!

  18. Oh I love your post! I like to know also every now and then but I’m definitely not that retarded to piss people off! But now that I’m thinking about it… hehe..*evil grin*

  19. Congratulations on making it to ‘Freshly Pressed’!

    “…one thing I don’t mind is spoilers.”

    “I look for information about movies that are coming out that I’m excited for, and I avidly read reviews of books and movies before I buy them.

    I do exactly the same!

    And I too love mysteries.

  20. Haha, the start of your story made me laugh. I’ve never done it with books, but I usually go google-crazy over a movie before I watch it. And you’re right as much as the end matters, there are a lot of other things that makes a movie great.

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

    • My own mother hates spoilers, but HAS to talk to people about books and movies she’s read. She spoiled that one for me, and countless other things. No wonder I don’t understand spoilers, I was never allowed to be surprised!

      Thanks for the comment!

  21. I agree that “spoilers can actually make people enjoy stories more”. I do read books a lot and I always take a peek on the last page to see who ends up with who; if it’s gonna be a happily ever after or ends in tragic.

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  22. I absolutely hate spoilers but i still love re watching/rereading things. Second reads are different, Its seeing an old friend. Revisiting an old home. Its rediscovery this time, seeing little things you missed the first round and getting all nostalgic about what you remember.

    The first watch or read for me however, holds many joys including discovering things for yourself. I want that surprise, that sense of “i did not see that coming.”

    To use the Snape kills Dumbledore example, i remember putting down the book for a second and saying aloud “how could he!?” (Though to be fair, i probably remember it so clearly because i was in a bus at the time and my outburst attracted stares.) Some of the magic of seeing Dumbledore’s trust being broken (or thinking it has been) cant be captured in the artless way people give away spoilers. The build up and the presentation are key. It doesn’t make it a bad book it just dampens a part of the story telling some of us like. Or saying “Don’t worry, that was Dumbledore’s plan all along” Kind of destroys that outrage or disbelief you hold until you see for yourself. While its not the entire story that ability for a book to move you is tied to not knowing what happens beforehand for some of us. That’s why the outrage is usually so great when someone takes that away.

    PS if you must spoil then do it with style. If Morgan Freeman launched into a cool monologue that was filled spoilers i’m sure i’d mind a lot less.

  23. Personally, I really dislike spoilers. Got no problem with other people liking them, of course – none of my business, after all – but I do hope you respect those of us who don’t like them, and don’t go talking about spoilers where those of us who don’t like them might hear. (I HAVE tried to beat up a friend about the Snape/Dumbledore thing.)
    Reading A Song of Ice and Fire right now helped me realize just what I dislike about spoilers: if I know who’s going to die, I won’t let myself fall in love with that character as much so I won’t feel so sad when he dies. And just spend the whole book waiting for him to die, instead of enjoying the story.

  24. Oh wow – your thought about how a spoiler really shouldn’t ruin a good book or movie is spot on! I re-read books until they fall apart, so I’m totally with you!

  25. People vary in how they rate any adventure or experience. I dunno mate, don’t take it as an offense, but you sound rather intolerant.

    • No offense taken. I guess it depends on what you mean by “intolerant.” People are welcome to not liking spoilers. I don’t understand why some people feel that hearing any information at all about a movie can ruin their enjoyment (which was what I was trying to say in the post), but they’re welcome to feel that way.

      If you mean my spoiler t-shirt, I’ve only had a few people actually be upset by it in the three years I’ve had it, and everyone who was always asked “What’s your shirt?” and was told, “It ruins the endings of movies.” Then they read it and get upset. Why read it if you’re just going to get upset?

      Maybe that does make me intolerant, but it’s not like I go out of my way to spoil movies, and if you look, I warn about even mild spoilers on all my posts dealing with books and movies.

      Thanks for your comment though. I appreciate the honesty!

  26. Your point makes sense, but I really love being surprised as a story unfolds. I even avoid reading the summaries of movies or the backs of books sometimes! Spoilers definitely change the experience for me.

    Having said that, I do re-read and re-watch movies because you can discover new things the second time around.

  27. I read almost all the Harry Potter books with some spoilers from my sister and friends. I was too eager to know the plot in advance. For a change I decided to read the 7th book without any spoiler. I didn’t read the newspapers for a week prior to the book’s release. During the day of release, I had School unfortunately. I spent the entire day at school shielding my ears with my fingers. It was a great experience reading without any spoilers for the first time.

    P.S : It was my first time reading without spoilers. So the amount of surprises in the last book nearly put me in high fever for two days !

  28. IMO, it depends on the person AND the movie/book. Snape killed Dumbledore or Tyler Durden would’ve annoyed me to be fair. Not that I’m a big fan of Fight Club, maybe I wouldn’t have watched it had I known.

    Most of the time you can avoid spoilers, though. I see a lot of people complaining that others posted forum comments that contain spoilers and such. That’s annoying… just don’t go on those forums or chat rooms!

    Personally, I am generally not too pissed off by spoilers from movies or TV shows. I do not go looking for them, like you do, generally turning into a fan girl only after I have seen all that is too see of a series (or read), but if I stumble on a spoiler, oh well. Sometimes it’s actually fun, ’cause I expect certain characters to die every 5 minutes so there’s a lot of tension. Other times though, it seems so interesting that I can’t make myself wait and just skip to that…

    Books really aren’t spoiled as often as movies, at least not the books I read. Then again, if you read only huge novels/series like me, the fact that you know some Stark is gonna die doesn’t make that big of a difference I would think, though I am uncertain, I never had a book spoiled.

    As for people who enjoy something more if they had spoilers, my take on it is that they either look forward to that and like how it got to be or they simply made sure it matches their taste. Sometimes I am let down by endings. So in theory if I had it spoiled beforehand and still wanted to read, it must be good.

    • To be fair, I think that UC San Diego study doesn’t prove anything. It was really just an excuse for me to talk about spoilers.

      But you’re right. It absolutely depends on the work. I made some pretty big generalizations, but sometimes a plot twist just makes something that much better.

      Thanks for the comment!

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