Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Can A Spoiler Destroy A Story?


Daniel Abraham - author of my current favourite adult fantasy series, The Dagger and The Coin series - tweeted last week saying "I am coming to the conclusion that if a spoiler destroys a story, it wasn't a good story. Re-readability may be a litmus test for quality."

Do you agree? The quote came back to me when I read what appears to be a major spoiler for Cory Jackson's If I Lie earlier today in an article. I was left fuming at the lack of a spoiler warning, with every book mentioned up to that point in the article having been described without giving away more than what was in the blurb for the book.

Knowing the answer to a question I've been asking myself since I first read about Jackson's book certainly doesn't mean I'm no longer interested in reading it - but I have to admit my anticipation's been dampened just a little. I agree with Abraham that a good story shouldn't be "destroyed" by a spoiler, but I think reading a lot of books can be vastly different if you know the end.

Taking the example of The Dragon's Path, the first book in The Dagger and The Coin series, Abraham introduces several main characters who initially seem to fit easily into certain fantasy archetypes. One of them, in particular, develops into a very different character from the one I would have expected him to turn into. Rereading it, you can see from the start that there are clues about that character's personality and it's fascinating to pick up on them - but I wouldn't have wanted to miss the experience of being blindsided by the big turning point in the character development.

Similarly, Hayley Long's What's Up With Jody Barton? has an absolutely massive twist, to the point where I've avoided reviewing it because I'm not sure what I can say which won't give something away. Reading again, it's amazing to see just how many clues Long drops into the narrative which should have piled up to tell me something, but which I missed. As much as I can admire Hayley Long for doing this, I wouldn't have wanted to know the twist from the start because I loved being surprised.

Even if there's no big twist, I'd still like to read it without knowing too much about it for the first time - it's one reason I stick to reviews from certain people who I'm confident won't give too much away. I've criticised books in the past because the back cover gives away far too much - I don't think the publishers of Dark Eyes by William Richter, for example, did him any favours by revealing a lot of stuff that happens quite a long way through the novel.

Perhaps because of my own thoughts on the matter, I'm absolutely paranoid about spoiling things myself. In addition to the Jody Barton example above, I've struggled for hours with reviews of a few books - notably Claudia Gray's Evernight, which like Jody Barton has a twist so massive that you can't really ignore it, but even mentioning the existence of it is close to a spoiler itself.

What do you think of spoilers? Can they destroy a story, or should a good book be able to hold up anyway? I'd love to read your comments - just do me a favour, and if you ARE going to spoil anything, mark it clearly!

9 comments

  1. I actually seek out spoilers. If there's a book I've been hearing a lot about, but I'm not sure if I want to read it, I'll look for the most spoiler filled review I can find for a good summary of the book, and then decide if I even want to bother. I've picked up a few books with twists that just irritated me (Variant by Robison Wells is a good example), and I feel like if I'm going to invest several hours in reading a book, I'd better enjoy it the whole way through.

    I'm pretty sure I'm alone on the spoiler thing, though, so I always try to mark on reviews if I've included a spoiler. I agree that there are some stories where it's difficult to share your thoughts without blowing the plot twists.

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    1. Thanks, Nickie! I can see why you seek out spoilery reviews in some cases - but I'm glad you mark your reviews when they contain them.

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  2. Hello Jim. To spoil or not to spoil? I read fewer and fewer reviews these days so usually I come at a book with very little beyond a rudimentary idea of what it's about. Clues from the author? To me, these are necessary. Rather than potentially spoiling a story, they validate it and provide more insight upon second reading. They also give the reader a chance to guess the twist and pat themselves on the back. No book has rocked me more than 'The Catcher in The Rye'. I read it aged 15, managed to miss all the clues which explain Holden's situation and then - on realising exactly what the score was on the final page - went straight back to the beginning and read it all over again. If Salinger or anyone else had explained it all to me clearly from the start, it would have been easier and I wouldn't have needed to read the book twice but I'm quite sure the book would not have had such an impact on me. It's good that not all books are linear narratives. They force us to think in different ways about things we weren't expecting to think about and they cry out to be read forwards and backwards and more than once. If I've managed to do this to any readers of 'Jody Barton' I'm happy :-) And as for spoilers, well... the more you read about a book beforehand, the more you're likely to encounter them I suppose. That's the nature of the brave new internet world - anyone can say more or less anything they like and share it with the entire world in seconds.

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    1. You definitely managed to do it with this reader of Jody Barton, Hayley! I think the clues are brilliant.

      Thinking about books which aren't linear narratives has suddenly reminded me of Paul Torday's stunning "The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce' - the 'ending' comes about a quarter of the way through the book, and everything else tells how the main character got to that stage. It's one of the best adult books I've ever read, truly amazing.

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  3. If the book is well-written and draws me in, that's going to happen if I know the spoiler or not. And I must admit, I'm one of those flip to the end readers.

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  4. I know lots of 'flip to the end readers', Jaye, but I could never do it myself! Thanks for leaving a comment.

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  5. For me, spoilers don't ruin the story. I'm another flip to the end reader; even if I know *what* happens, I don't know *how* it happens, and finding out how is what intrigues me about the book.

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  6. I think spoilers are annoying if you're halfway through a book and then someone tells you what happens. But I don't really mind them if they come before I start reading. I never flip to the end though. If I start on something, I'll read it properly.

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