Plot is made from people!!: A writer dilemma about spoilers

Spoiler Alert: Angel turns evil, Cloud is actually a loser and not some legendary hero, Chrono Trigger features time travel, and it’s people. You heard me, it’s made from people.

Hal 9000 of twitter and film fame recently posted this link to a BBC report on the scientific study of spoilers.  The study posits that spoilers can actually improve the enjoyment dervied from experiencing a work of fiction. Of course the phrase “spoiler warning” has become a requirement in some forums under threat of banning, so what’s the deal?

I saw the movie Memento with no idea what was happening. Same with A Beautiful Mind. Not knowing a thing about the movies made the surprise twists in the latter parts of both films awesome. I walked out of A Beautiful Mind thinking “Best Spy Movie Ever!”

But movies are short. Usually you go from meeting the heroes to knowing their darkest secrets in two hours or less. It’s like the unpredictability of a joke’s punchline. We can watch the same action movie with new writers over and over because they’ve got a new punchline for us. It’s why Hong Kong cop movies are all the same and always so brilliant.

Short stories and individual tv episodes are the same way. Old Twilight Zone episodes build the suspense over 30 minutes at most then deliver in the last few moments. It’s an easy momentum to sustain. So I get the hatred of spoilers.

But I skipped Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It wasn’t until I saw an episode from season 4 and realized where the show could go that I actually took the time to watch it fro the beginning. Knowing Willow was a gay witch, Angel is a villain, and Cordelia has a personality helped me enjoy the earlier seasons at times I might not have.

The plot summary of my first chapter gets some people, but of the people who’ve heard the major spoilers for The Storyteller Chronicles: The Horde the thing that gets them the most is the relationship among the main characters and the “so that’s what’s really happening? Dang I want to go back and reread now.”

I’m going to put on my old english teacher hat now. Shakespearean plays were never about plot twists as I understood it. Usually the audience knew Macbeth turned evil, Hamlet went nuts, and Romeo and Juliet don’t get to go to couples counseling to sort out their messed up ideas about relationships.

In fact, you might have heard these same stories three, four, or fifteen times over but what made Shakespearean plays so special was not “what” happened but “how” it happened.

Hamlet’s internal monologues and debates make or break the play for most people- either it’s deep and philosophical or “get on with it already, Hammie.” Either way, they define the play more than the standard Inigo Montoya  “dude killed my dad” vengeance story.

I’m asking for honesty here now: how many of us dismissed Star Wars before someone said “Dude, Darth Vader is Luke’s dad! You’ve got to see this!” The final spoiler of the Battlestar Galactica miniseries is one of the major reasons I was able to talk other people in to watching the series.

Spoilers tell you “what” but they don’t usually tell you “how” and I’ve found a number of shows, books, comics, etc that I might not have given a chance but for their spoilers.

Rising Stars- one of my perennial favorite comics- spoils itself in the first book. One could argue the main character narrating after the end of the story and occasionally offering hindsight commentary is a form of spoiler. In Rising Stars we know things go sour pretty early on.

If it wasn’t for Soylent Green’s spoiler of a final moment, I wonder if it would still get rented today. I enjoyed the movie but it was someone telling me “it’s made from people” that changed it from a “watch if it’s on the Sci Fi Channel” to “add to Netflix queue.”

So I’ve got a really mixed view of spoilers. I think the really great works go ahead and give spoilers as they go. Sometimes I think really great plot composition seems based on willignness to dole out spoilers within the work itself.

I always felt Lost’s decision to let us know “yeah they get off the island by the end of this season and here’s what happens” was brilliant. Halfway through the show they’ve given away a central mystery that actually added to the drama of the show.

Some works really benefit from being revealed as something more than what they are at their outset. Knowing some spoilers for Order of the Stick, It’s Walky, the Berserk comics, and Phantasy Star 2 kept my interest in these far beyond where it might have been if I’d not known them.

However, when I first watched the Berserk tv series I had no idea how it would end and neither did the ill fated group of friends I marathoned it with. We were in therapy for months.

Sometimes spoilers have hurt things for me, specifically reading about how Gandalf is an angel. I know it’s more complicated than that but I still have difficulty with it. I may get around to finishing those books one day but it’ll be awhile. I’m reading Geist right now.

This has major implications for my own writing. The Horde starts off dressed as horror fantasy but when I describe it as science fiction, I’m not lying. By chapter 5 I have a few hints out that some of what seems like magic is actually in some ways science and knowing that, building to that feels important to me.

But as a reader, do you prefer the mystery of Bridan’s background and the nature of the voice or do you want to know right out everyone’s darkest secrets? I’m torn.


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