Category Archives: All My Stories & Extras

Do Spoilers Spoil Stories?

Spoilers, by Paulina Van VlietSpoilers ruin everything. They rip out ask the suspense and enjoyment, they wreck – Wait, you’re saying people actually like a work MORE if it’s been spoiled for them? Are you serious?

This is what Derek Thompson argues in “In Defense of Spoilers.” Apparently, anticipation of a twist can take away our enjoyment of the parts of the movie or book that don’t lead up to the twist. Or maybe we just like predictability. Anyway, research by psychologists has shown people rate stories higher when all the plot twists have been spoiled for them ahead of time.

Okay, okay, there’s truth in this.

For example, I’ll use Emma, by Jane Austen. I’ve already written it was much better the second time I read it, and that was mainly because I knew what was going to happen. The first time I didn’t know, so I didn’t think anything was happening. Anyone who’s read it knows it’s a lot of descriptions of conversations in a quiet English town. But it’s also been described as ‘a mystery without a murder’ – there’s so many clues in all the ‘nothing’ that goes on, and it all adds up to something. But the first time you read it, you don’t realized there’s a mystery at all. And I, at first, was a bit bored and confused.

And shouldn’t this research make sense? Don’t we tell the same stories over and over again? How many times has the Cinderella plot been used? (Including by me, here). And I’ve already admitted I’ll watch almost any version of retelling of Pride and Prejudice, over and over again.

So we love the same old stories, the seven basic plots, the Save the Cat story outline… We might as well stop with the attempts at original stories, right? Might as well quit worrying about spoilers. We’d enjoy everything so much more that way.

No, but wait! There’s something else…

When we worry about spoilers, we worry about losing that sense of surprise and satisfaction when we see the pieces suddenly fit together. Not every work is good at this, but every once in a while we come across a book that manages to turn itself inside-out in the last pages. The turn of events blows your mind.

This elusive feeling is something we chase in every movie and novel we read (or, at least, I do). You can enjoy a movie or a book without it. You can love a book that doesn’t give you this feeling. But this feeling is unique enough and wonderful enough it’s worth looking for.

Spoilers, of course, steal the opportunity fo this feeling away.

Back to Emma – your first initial read where you think nothing is going on is so important to the work! Because it’s that first read where you’re in Emma’s point of view, it’s that first read where you trust her and believe whatever she thinks she sees. There’s no sensations to compare your second read to if you haven’t had the first. You can hunt for clues the whole time on your first read instead, but you ARE missing out on something if you know what you’re looking for.

And that’s the whole point of avoiding spoilers, isn’t it? There’s an experience you’ll miss if someone spoils it for you. You’ll lose something you’ll never get back, and you’ll never know if there’s any amount of enjoyment that will make up for losing that initial experience. You’ll never know what that would’ve felt like.

Plot twists shouldn’t be the end-goal for every book or movie. Clearly, people can enjoy stories that are predictable. But I’d argue we should still try to prevent spoilers as a service to our fellow humans, because some experiences can’t be recreated once spoiled. People can at least try for that mind-turning experience. And if spoilers improve the experience – well, that’s what a second reading is for.

What’s your thoughts on spoilers?

 

Illustration by Paulina Van Vliet. All rights reserved.

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Peck Out Her Eyes, She Deserves It!

Vindictiveness in Fiction

'Just Desserts,' by Paulina Smit. Creative Commons.

‘Just Desserts,’ by Paulina Smit. Creative Commons.

Some versions of Cinderella end with her ordering her bird-friends to peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. Yes, the sweet, lovely Cinderella whom we all heard about as a kid – though clearly not the Disney version. Apparently she decided to take revenge and punish her sisters by blinding them in the most gruesome way she could think of. Or, in other versions of the story, exiling them to the wilderness, or forcing them to be slaves.

 I always preferred the endings where she invites her stepsisters and stepmother to live in the castle instead, and teaches them how to be gracious. After all, Cinderella is supposed to be better than them, and if she resorts to petty vindictiveness to punish them, how is she better than her stepsisters, who mistreated her because she was prettier than them?

(See my version of Cinderella, Prince Charming, to see what I think about the character of the prince!)

 I always wanted to think if anyone could be outstandingly forgiving, it was Cinderella. And I always wanted to think the stepsisters learned to be better people after what happened. Maybe I’m just an optimist about humanity.

 But, strangely enough, vindictiveness is a strong theme in many works of fiction. I mean, take The Count of Monte Cristo. This is a book completely centred around a man taking revenge, it is regarded as a true classic, and its plot keeps getting used by many other works (the movie, The Mask of Zorro, for instance, and Charade, an actual Christian inspirational fiction book that uses the same plot).

 In the book, the Count of Monte Cristo takes great pleasure in revenge. He manipulates a man’s wife to commit suicide and take her son with her as well, driving the man insane. Then he destitutes another man, and causes a third to commit suicide. Of course, the point of the book is that they all deserved it, but still…

 Clearly, punishing people who were mean to you is attractive to most readers, and I’m not really surprised this natural human reaction is so popular. Everyone likes to see someone get their comeuppance. I am surprised that I don’t enjoy it. Like I said before, I like the versions of Cinderella where she doesn’t punish her stepsisters, and the parts of The Count of Monte Cristo where he relents instead of taking revenge. But this quirk of mine ends up interfering with my enjoyment of other classics as well.

 Take Roald Dahl. Everyone loves Roald Dahl! Everyone’s read at least a dozen of his books in their childhood – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, etc. So I read them too, and they confused me like crazy. As a kid, I couldn’t figure out if I was supposed to laugh or feel bad (I actually felt bad) when James’ aunts get flattened by the giant peach, or Veruca Salt gets carried away by squirrels.

 So while I knew these books were wonderfully creative and inventive – no one’s written about being inside a chocolate factory before! And definitely not a chocolate factory that was so fun – I couldn’t get past feeling uncomfortable with them. In this case, I never particularly felt that the characters in the book were the vindictive ones – Charlie, or James, for example. It was just this undercurrent of vindictiveness that ran through most of the books – as if the author himself was exorcizing his demons.

 So here’s the thing – bad characters should learn something, or be punished, or whatever makes a satisfactory ending to a story. But what I find uncomfortable is when other characters take this into their own hands. Because I don’t believe we ever see things quite clearly when we’ve been hurt. And I’m always afraid that taking this kind of revenge just tangles things up and makes them worse.

But that’s just me. What do you think about vindictiveness in fiction?

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Haven’t You Heard of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog?

Haven’t you heard of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog? It is the world’s biggest bestseller, or it should be, if this old saying from the publishing industry was true. Apparently book about Lincoln, books about doctors, and books about dogs all sell extremely well (at least before the internet came along, and fell in love with cats instead…) So clearly a book about all three of those things should be amazing.

Everyone knows this is a kind of silly way to look at manufacturing a bestseller. I agree, and so does the Amrah Publishing House – their latest post, Manufacturing a Bestseller, pokes several holes in this theory. Clearly I, along with several thousand other authors, would’ve written a highschool vampire love story if we’d known beforehand what a big hit Twilight was going to be. But that’s the way of these things, they’re somewhat unpredictable.

All the same, I know many of you reading this blog did enjoy Why Polly? when I posted it chapter-by-chapter here. Well, I’ve been busy editing and polishing it some more, another part will be available on Kindle on Friday. It doesn’t contain a doctor, a dog, or anything about Lincoln, but I think it’s a pretty entertaining story all the same.

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The Crime of Re-Using Plots – Is It A Crime?

Oh no, a romantic comedy! (Sabrina trailer – {PD})

Oh no, it’s another mad dash to the airport, where the girl swears she will leave the country forever and the guy insists he’s in love with her, you sigh to yourself. Everyone knows romantic comedies all have the same plot. Why do they even bother making more of them?

Well, how many plots do you think there are in the world, anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I get as annoyed by a formulaic “plot twist” as anyone else. I never want to see another break-up where the girl found out the guy was really a newspaper reporter and writing about her the whole time, ever again. I’ll be perfectly content if think-he’s-cheating-but-actually-it’s-all-a-wacky-misunderstanding scenes are banned from movies and books altogether. But that doesn’t mean expecting every element of the plot to be completely original every single time is at all realistic.

Like I said in previous posts, ancient writers all let each other play in their sandboxes. There was nothing surprising that the bard who wandered into your village told the exact same story as the bard who was there three months before. Another story about the Fall of Troy? Hey, why not, it’s not like anyone owns it. And so people only got famous if they did something really, really interesting with the well-worn story.

Romeo and Juliet was originally The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, and end with the nurse being hung and the apothecary banished. Shakespeare was merciful to the nurse and the apothecary, and a classic was born. The Metamorphoses was just Ovid retelling every single Greek myth he could think of, and making sure everyone changed into an animal at some point in the story, but everyone agreed he told the stories better than anyone else. And shoot, everyone knows Star Wars is based on The Hero’s Journey. Just because we’d told stories about heroes before, didn’t stop Star Wars from becoming insanely popular.

The key is – it’s got to be done better. We don’t live in a time where plagiarism is allowed, so an original take on the plot of the latest best-seller won’t get you anywhere, but no one’s copyright The Hero’s Journey. Or the romantic comedy formula. Use them to your heart’s content, but do it better.

Because that’s the real source of frustration with the formulaic plots, isn’t it? It feels like the writers or whoever thought the audience must be feeling the emotions they want them to feel because they hit all the right plot points. Who cares if the characters are cardboard and have no motivation – they’re racing for their love in taxicabs through New York, so you have to cheer for them. On the other hand, if the writers succeed is presenting a hackneyed plot in a fresh and interesting way, you almost forget you’ve heard some of the plot points a thousand times before. For example, in Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn, Audrey is chased by two brothers who are in love with her. Not the most original set-up in the world, but I still love the movie because Audrey makes me care which guy she ends up with. Or you can take the millions of re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice that exist, and I will watch as many of them as I can get my hands on, because the dynamic at the center of the book is so intriguing I want to see what other creators do with it.

Re-telling the story is not the problem. Re-telling it well is.

Cinderella is another story that’s been re-told a hundred thousand times. Can it handle one more? Call me deluded, but I thought so and wrote Prince Charming because of it. And since it’s free today and tomorrow, you can go here and decide if I succeeded.

What do you think, is re-using plots a crime against writing and the source of all formulaic books and movies? Or can writers dispense with being completely original once in a while to play around with well-worn tropes?

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Interview with the Author of ‘Prince Charming’

Curious about my latest ebook, Prince Charming? Head over to the Amrah Publishing House website to see my interview and find out what it’s all about. Stay tuned to the website for updates on promotions and giveaways too!

Or just read the description here (though seriously, the interview’s pretty neat too):

The prince is an irresponsible flirt who won’t settle down. The king needs an heir who will grow up and take care of the kingdom. What’s the solution? A royal ball, of course.
Despite Princess Anastasia’s doubts, the prince does meet a girl who’s different from all the others. But what’s this? A wicked stepmother, and several stepsisters? If there’s a girl who can ever learn to put up with the prince’s self-centeredness, her past may ruin this romance—and the ball!—before anyone gets a fairytale ending.

Available at Amazon

Amazon

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Reactions to an Engagement – ‘Mansfield Park’ fanfiction

No, ‘Jane Austen fanfiction’ is not my new replacement for Why Polly?, but it is for this week. I wrote this quite a while ago, but I held off on posting it so it wouldn’t interrupt Why Polly?. This is a short fanfiction of Mansfield Park, from Mary Crawford’s point-of-view (remember – the girl who Edmund was in love with but was so wrong for him?) Mansfield Park is one of the lesser-read novels of Jane Austen, so it’s not a huge surprise if you haven’t read it, though I recommend all of Austen’s novels. If you’ve read it, I also spewed out my thoughts on the book previously, in Rant About Mansfield Park.

Reactions to an Engagement

It is a terrible plague to mean to be rich, yet to have fallen for a man who is not.

Why couldn’t Edmund have been rich? Why couldn’t he have at least been the eldest? Or possessed some yearning to increase his income, or to go into some profession that was guaranteed to raise his prominence and expand his style of living?

I looked out the window, down at the rainy streets of London below. A dull day. Nobody about, nothing going on. There was nothing to do but sit here with my own thoughts, and some of my thoughts were rather too painful.

No, better yet, I ought not to have fallen in love with Edmund in the first place. He was so unlike the usual sort of man that attracted me! So invulnerable to all my teasing, so steady and calm, so contented with the country and the lack of stylish amusements it afforded. Insensitive to my teasing he might’ve been, but he had not been insensitive to my charm. Indeed – the months I had spent at the Parsonage had been some of the happiest of my life. To see his gaze soften with admiration as I played that favourite air of his on my harp… But while I had enjoyed his company, I would’ve been better off not to have fallen in love with him. Why had I?

I truly hadn’t intended for such a thing to happen. Usually I select my conquests with care, and judge whether I will succumb to their charms after much contemplation. Edmund was extraordinary to work his way into my affections before I had half-realized it.

Yet for several briefs moments this past year, I had thought maybe I was more tired of the amusements of the city than I realized. That perhaps wealth and consequence, though I had never had either, were not as engrossingly important as I had always imagined. For several moments I had thought so – thought perhaps I could adjust to Edmund’s quiet country-parson’s way of life. Until I stepped back into the bustle of London, and I knew I could never give such amusements up.

There is nothing more terrible than to love and yet know you yourself are the reason the love must be given up.

Not that I had had such a choice. Edmund had turned away from me with a hard heart and hardened eyes, and nothing I could do could make him change his mind. Perhaps it was best to know that now – to know if I had married him I could never have convinced him to spend some months in London, or drive a more stylish carriage, or to seek more fashionable acquaintances. Still, it stung me to my very soul that he had made the decision to break off the potential of anything between us, not I. I might not care so very much if I had felt I had taken control in the deciding.

Oh, I am a failure even at attempting to fool myself. There is no way I could have convinced myself to give such a man as Edmund up, no matter how miserable I should be.

So could I convince myself things were better this way?

Last that I had heard, Edmund was courting his cousin, Fanny Price. Fanny Price! If nothing else had illustrated the impassable gulf that existed between him and me, this did – the fact that he could be consoled after giving me up by a girl such as Fanny. That insipid, shy, retiring shadow of a girl, whose acquaintance I had persistently pursued for so long because I knew how important she was to Edmund! Long had I pursued the acquaintance, without feeling I knew the girl a whit better than before the acquaintance had begun. Such a quiet girl! Yet one who might speak her opinion on moral matters quite decidedly if pressed, and stick to it to a surprisingly degree – a degree no one would have predicted, from her otherwise obliging temperament. Fanny Price’s fastidiousness had ruined everything for my brother – and perhaps now she would ruin everything for me.

What? Was I still clinging to a shred of hope? It did not matter if Edmund married or did not marry Fanny Price. He’d made it clear he would never come back to me.

It was time for me to fling myself into society again, to distract myself with admirers, to appear light-hearted and charming to all who laid eyes on me. And I had been doing so until this day, and until this moment of dullness and silence I had convinced myself I had forgotten everything that had passed in Mansfield Park. But I knew now that none of the unattached society men would hold a candle to Edmund’s steadiness, his earnest ability to convey to a lady how very much he felt for her by a mere glance of his eyes. There was something in making a man such as him admire you! Fanny Price should know how much she had gained!

Yes, she likely did. I could not accuse her of presumption, but she must’ve at least been in love with Edmund for some time.

I was a fool, but as long as he was single, I did have hope.

At that very moment, my brother, Henry, entered the room.

“It is over, Mary,” he said.

Not his flirtations, that was for certain. He had thrown himself into his usual pattern of behaviour with a vengeance, and without seeming much more contented as a result of it. A certain class of respectable women avoided him, of course, but there were enough willing to associate with him to distract him. Except it looked as if he was as difficult to distract as I was.

He handed me a society paper. “Edmund Bertram has announced his engagement to Fanny Price.”

I lifted my eyes to his face. “She has got him at last, then.”

It was only the anguished look on my brother’s face that convinced me it was true.

“I still love her, Mary,” he said. His hand found the arm of the chair behind him, and he sunk himself down into it. “I didn’t think it was possible – I still love her.”

I had never thought it possible either, that my brother could ever lose at the game he played so well. That there’d every be a soul among all the ladies he juggled that would make him regret he could not convince himself to drop the others. Lost? Oh yes, my brother had lost. He is not the sort to love often, perhaps never more than once. And he knows reforming, even were he able to attempt it, would do nothing to win the heart of Fanny Price, nor raise his character in her eyes.

Oh why, oh why had the Crawfords ever gone in among the Bertrams and the Prices? They exposed the folly we could not stop clinging to. And neither of us were the better for having met them.

My heart twisted inside my chest. Edmund was to be married. Henry and I had both played and lost. Life made it clear we could not have everything we wanted, and we’d learned our priorities well.

If only such priorities did not look so dreary and monotonous on their own.

 

 

If you enjoyed Reactions to an Engagment, I also previously wrote a short piece on Emma – called Not Emma.

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Skipping Dinner: Chapter 30C (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 30C, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

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A Chat in the Library: Chapter 30B (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 30B, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

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The King: Chapter 30A (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 30A, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

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Confrontation Continued: Chapter 29B (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 29B, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

 

(My previous version of this post contained this note of thanks: Thank you to all who’ve been reading this, especially all those who’ve stuck with me all the way to Chapter 29! We’re getting quite close to the end now, so let me say I am amazed by your dedication and comments of appreciation. I’m glad to hear from anyone likes to read this story!)

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