Thursday, July 9, 2015

On Spoilers

I had an unpleasant experience last month. I was poised to begin a book I was extremely excited about; a book I’d been looking forward to for nearly twenty years. I tweeted about it, as one does, and a person with whom I’d interacted perhaps two or three times replied with spoilers.

Now, I don't know what this person’s intentions were. Maybe they were trying to temper my expectations. Maybe they thought I was about to reread the book and we could have a conversation. I don’t know, and I guess I never will because I was so horrified that I muted them before they could tell me anything else.

The internet is full of spoilers, so you’ve got to expect you’ll come across them at some point or another. Those of us who’d rather remain spoiler-free must take steps to ensure we don't learn too much. I might steer clear of Twitter for a while if a lot of people are live-tweeting a show I want to watch later. I'll scroll quickly over a discussion of a book my friends have read but I still have on la TBR. I often avoid reviews of a book I’m anticipating, just in case I learn too much. Some social media apps even allow you to blacklist certain words; a good resource for anyone who's particularly worried.

It’s unreasonable to expect that everyone on the public internet will keep mum about that highly anticipated piece of media you haven’t got to yet. If you care about spoilers, you have to protect yourself.

And I do. I avoid spoilers because I recognize I can't expect the entire world to hold off on talking about things until I’ve finished them.

I put in the effort on my end, and I don’t think it's unreasonable for me to expect people to keep spoilers out of my mentions (or my blog comments, for that matter).

In the instance I encountered last month, the spoilers were admittedly unspecific. The person didn’t tell me who died or anything, thank goodness, and once I’d finished the book in question (A MEMORY OF LIGHT by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson), the tweet struck me as more of a personal interpretation I didn't share. Before I began, though, it read like confirmation of how the story would go down. I couldn't help but draw certain conclusions based on this crucial tidbit. I was upset, and I was shocked someone would come into my space and ruin this thing I was looking forward to.

The situation has got me thinking about when I do consider it appropriate to share spoilers directly with another person. It can be a dicey proposition, as evidenced by my pre-read and post-read interpretations of the spoilerific tweet, but I propose the following scenarios as appropriate times to bring spoilers into someone's space:

When someone asks you for them

My BFF is a huge GAME OF THRONES fan. I've read the books, so before the show caught up with the series she was always on at me for spoilers. There were a few things she absolutely did not want to know, so I always made sure she had a chance to retract her request before I actually gave her an answer. Sometimes she did; sometimes she didn't. Sometimes she'd say no, she'd changed her mind, but a few days later she'd turn around and say yeah, okay, she wanted to know about Lady Stoneheart (or whoever) after all.

On my own account, I'll occasionally throw out a tweet asking people to convince me I ought to keep reading a book that's boring me. I tell responders not to worry about spoilers, because I really want to know if I've got anything to look forward to. It's not a common occurrence, but it does happen.

When the person is vocally pro-spoiler

Let’s take my friend Jenny as an example. Jenny does not mind spoilers. Hell, Jenny loves spoilers. She reads the end before she reads the middle. It’s her schtick.

A couple months back, I saw her tweeting about a theory she had regarding Noelle Stevenson’s NIMONA. I didn’t hesitate to pop into her mentions and confirm it, with a quick “I know you don’t care about spoilers, so I can tell you...” tacked on in front so anyone who follows the both of us could look away if they felt it necessary. We had a nice little conversation about the comic.

I wouldn't have done the same with Renay because I know Renay dislikes spoilers so much that she won’t even watch trailers of upcoming movies. And I certainly wouldn’t have done it with a stranger, or even an acquaintance, because I don’t know their stance on spoilers.

When it’s bullshit, and the other person knows it’s bullshit

I have many friends with whom I’ll trade strange, unlikely spoilers about our shared favourites. They post their wildest fears, and I reply with, “Yes. That’s exactly how it goes down.” They respond to my own fearful speculations in the same way. We shoot the shit about how THE RAVEN KING (which nobody but Maggie Stiefvater and her closest associates has read) ends on such a high note, with everyone being not dead and remaining friends forever. We invent deeply implausible spoilers for all the stuff we love, and it’s all good fun because everyone understands there’s only accidental truth to it.

And if it turns out our fake spoilers are right, we can all laugh about how we said Gansey was gonna turn into a giant chicken at the end and hey! He did turn into a giant chicken!

(NB: I made that up. I’ll be surprised as all hell if Gansey turns into a giant chicken--but if he does, you know I'll be bragging about this moment because I totally called it. Hell, I'll even brag if he turns into a giant raven, because my chicken guess was close enough.)

Again, I wouldn’t do this with a stranger or a passing acquaintance because they might take me seriously.

When it’s a matter of representation

My stance on this has shifted over the years. For example, I used to love stumbling across queer characters with no prior warning, but now I firmly believe shock or surprise reveals feed into potentially harmful stereotypes and tropes more often than not. I want to know ahead of time about any queer or trans characters who may crop up throughout the text, especially if there’s a troubling angle to it all.

BOY, SNOW, BIRD is an excellent example. The book is fabulous until twenty pages from the end, at which point it devolves into a horrifying, transphobic mess. The text's failure renders a trigger warning absolutely necessary, and our need to discuss the impact this sort of terrible representation has on our culture trumps anyone's desire to avoid spoilers.

When you’re simply sharing an opinion.

I don’t consider someone’s general opinion a spoiler. Plenty of friends and acquaintances jump into my mentions to say they really liked a book or TV show they’ve seen me talking about. Far fewer pop in to tell me they weren’t into it, but it does happen. In either case, I respond with a simple, "Ooh, I'm glad to hear you liked it! I'm looking forward to more." or "Hmm, that doesn't bode well. I'll keep it in mind as I read on." If I want more details, I'll ask for them, and I expect anyone with whom I've shared a general opinion of my own to do the same.

There are so many ways to communicate how you felt about a story without sharing pertinent details from the plot. "I wasn't crazy about the opening, but it got really good later on," for example, or "I loved it right from the word go!" or "I don't feel like it lived up to all the promise you can see in the premise." And there's a big difference between that sort of statement and something like, "I loved/hated it because of the scene where Jane defeated Nancy by feeding the rage-magic she inherited from her mother into the nunchucks her wise old mentor led her to believe were completely mundane."

You know?

That said, I make note of friends and acquaintances who might not want to hear so much as a simple "I liked it" beforehand, and I avoid telling them anything.

What’s your stance on sharing spoilers with someone? How do you feel when someone goes out of their way to share them with you?


  1. I try really hard to be mindful of other people's spoiler policies, but I am not perfect at it. I sometimes forget that people haven't read/seen all the same things I have read/seen. As I've said to you before, though, I feel appropriately guilty if I inadvertently spoil something for somebody. (Oh Lord, I was talking to my little sister at one point before we started reading Dream Thieves, and I was ranting about Niall Lynch, and I accidentally revealed something about Aurora that my sister didn't know yet. Derp. Luckily she didn't mind. BUT STILL.)

    As for people who are vocally pro-spoiler: In case I haven't said it recently, I very much appreciate people who hear me say "I like knowing what happens in the end" and then believe me. Very very often, I will tell people "I like to know the end, please tell me what it is so I can enjoy this movie more?" and they don't believe me and refuse to tell me and it is sooooooo frustrating. My teeth I gnash them.

    1. I think I used to be in the "oh but should I REALLY spoil her?" camp, but have since moved over onto the "yes tell her ALL the spoils all of them" side. It's super fun telling you the endings, actually. :D

    2. I will spoil all the things for you, Jenny, provided I've already read or seen them. All you have to do is ask.

  2. Although given the type of reader I am and the amount of mysteries I read I might have figured it out on my own, I remember someone using the simple phrase, "I never saw that coming!" (which I'm guilty of using too), and that was enough to put me on high alert as I began reading a particular book. I enjoyed the book immensely anyway, but I do have to wonder if I would have figured it out on my own without being alerted everything might not be what it seemed.

    I have friends who think just knowing what a book is about is a spoiler. Whereas I don't often know I want to read a book unless I know something about it (unless it's a series I follow or a genre author I love and will anything by--because then you know what you're getting more or less).

    What's funny is I don't like books being spoiled by me (and by spoilers I mean major plot twists or the ending), but I never mind a movie being spoiled for me. Unlike you who will share spoilers when asked, my friends and family are rather tight lipped, refusing to tell me anything. I hate that. I will readily give away a spoiler if asked (and I know the person is serious).

    I try to keep spoilers out of my reviews, but it can be hard, especially when something bothers me that happens at or near the end. I often will make mention of it without specifics, but, really, it can be kind of obvious especially if you know me. From what the people who comment say, I get the impression that those who plan to read the book skim my review or don't read it at all if they're concerned about spoilers. I think that's the best option, really. I tend to do that too if I plan to read a book soon-ish to when the other person posted their review--I'm more likely not to comment though, but save the review to read once I've read the book and written my review. If I do plan to read a book but I know it won't be any time soon, I read the review anyway--chances are, I'm sad to say, I won't remember any spoiler type statements anyway. It does happen, but not often. Usually, in case of general spoilers--like child abuse warnings, for example, or lots of preaching--I'm just grateful for the heads up so I can adjust my expectations or be prepared if I decide to read the book after all.

    I know that recently I wrote and posted a review of a book and alluded to the meaning behind the title--which everyone pretty much guessed right away. I felt safe pointing it out though because it's obvious from the beginning of the book. Bu there was some second guessing on my part after about whether I should have done that. Especially since it might turn people off from reading the book when perhaps they might have liked it otherwise.

    1. I'm also less concerned about movie spoilers. I don't seek them out, but they're so difficult to avoid with all the gifs and tweets floating around in the ether that I don't fash about them too much in most cases. It probably helps that I mostly like action-heavy movies and animated features, and those are all fairly guessable to begin with.

  3. The worst spoilers I've ever experienced have been the ones I've inflicted on myself. I.e., I read the last few paragraphs of a book and was like, WTF?! But what made the spoiler awful was I had no idea what it was actually about so I imaged a whole host of scenarios that turned out to be better than the actual story. :/ So honestly, I don't care too much about spoilers. I think a good show or book should able to carry you even if you know what will happen. The joy should be in HOW it happens.

    1. I'm also interested in the HOW, but I like the opportunity to put all the pieces together and guess where things will end up. Formulating theories is one of my favourite parts of reading, and if I already know the ending I miss out on a good-sized chunk of that enjoyment.

  4. I always appreciate you protecting me from spoilers by covering my ears with your fairy wings.

    1. I do my best to ensure my fairy wings are sound-proof.

  5. For a moment there I was panicking that I'd spoiled you somehow. Eek!

    I generally do the same thing as you, namely staying away from reviews and too much discussion about a book I'm planning on reading. Sometimes, though, if I'm having trouble with a book I go through some Goodreads reviews to see if it's worth sticking it out (usually it isn't). I will ALSO spoil myself a little by, for example, reading the summary to the second book in a series I've just started. Usually I'm worried about a certain character dying or being a murderer or something, so if their name is in the summary I know they'll be okay and I can continue the book without worrying TOO much.

    1. I do the same thing with LibraryThing reviews. Sometimes people are like, "This gets really good about a third of the way in," but most of the time everything the reviewers has to say just confirms my decision to back away from the book.

      When I was a kid and I was really worried a character might die, I used to flip ahead and skim the text in search of their name. I gave up on so much as glancing at second-book summaries after I was spoiled for a particularly heartrending death in one of my favourite series.