inTouch: To Spoil or Not to Spoil?
Do you cover your ears when you think someone is going to spoil the plot of a movie or book? Do you log off of Twitter for fear that you’ll find out the ending of a story you plan to take on? If you do, the BBC reports that a University of California San Diego study found that “knowing how a book ends does not ruin its story and can actually enhance enjoyment.”
While I often like to frown at scientific research that seems frivolous, I am intrigued by this study, even if it doesn’t cure any diseases. And in my unscientific opinion, UCSD got this one wrong.
The researchers handed over 12 short stories where “two versions were spoiled and a third unspoiled” and “In all but one story, readers said they preferred versions which had spoiling paragraphs written into it.”
Although the study could not explain why, it suggested the brain may find it easier to process a spoiled story. Because the participants said they preferred the stories with a spoiler (even mysteries or stories with a plot twist), researchers concluded that “the success of entertainment did not rest on simple suspense alone.”
The assertion that knowing the ending or the twist does not ruin a person’s enjoyment of a story makes sense, if you have already read the book before. But to me, knowing the twist ruins my enjoyment and would make a first reading much less pleasurable. A friend of mine thinks that knowing the ending of a story will not affect your enjoyment of it if the story is well-written. I understand the idea in theory–you can appreciate the writer’s craft and the details of the ending need not get in the way–but I struggle with this notion in practice.
I am a mystery fan and would not want to know who committed the crime before it was revealed at the end. Even Columbo, a TV show that let you see who committed the crime at the beginning, kept you in suspense as the detective tried to figure out the motive and how to trap the perpetrator. With an unreliable narrator, some of the suspense of the story relies on not being sure of what is real and what is distorted. Most stories have something that is not revealed immediately and if you knew what it was as you started consuming it for the first time, you would enjoy it less.
Critics and reviewers have to write for people who like and don’t like spoilers and that can’t be easy. In rounding up reviews of the movie adaptation of the book One Day, New York Magazine found that the ending of the story was “both too important for critics to ignore…and too important to spoil, so they must address, without really addressing it.”
Some people like to flip to the back of a book (scroll to the end of an e-book?) to find out what happens at the end. Those people can enjoy the story more if they know where things are headed. If that is you, you are free to do that; I want to go through the process of waiting for a book’s secret to unravel.
Do you get upset at spoilers? Do you think spoilers are no big deal? Or do you want to know the end before you begin.
Check out thebookspoiler.com if you live for the ending.
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Elsewhere in inReads: You want spoilers? We got spoilers. Check out five fantasy heroes who died before their time.