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 for 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.