“What exactly IS a spoiler?” I ask, after seeing potentially hundreds of spoilers over the past few years.
Hello, friends. 😌 It’s been a while.
Yesterday was my blog’s 2nd Blogiversary! I… literally can’t believe it. This is a very hard thing to process. Especially since I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I did on my first year of blogging.
And in honor of my blogiversary, I’m going to revisit one of my first (and best) discussions. In March of 2019, I made a discussion post titled “What do you think about spoilers?” and to this day, it’s still one of my favorites. However! There are still so many things to discuss when it comes to spoilers. So in true Xandra fashion, I’m going to talk about everything I can when it comes to spoilers.
2 + 2 = A Spoiled Plot Twist
Let me give a little bit of backstory here.
A while ago, I received an ARC from a publisher, and I was quite excited to read it, despite almost no one talking about it’s upcoming release. I went to Goodreads and saw that one of my friends had recently finished it. Their review was short (and I didn’t actually mean to read it, I just glanced at it really fast), but one thing stood out to me: they mentioned there was a “sad major plot twist towards the end”.
Which… doesn’t sound like a spoiler, at first. They never said what the plot twist was about. They never even said where the plot twist happened, exactly, or which characters were effected by the plot twist.
But you know what? I was able to guess the plot twist less than 50 pages before it happened, and not because the writing was bad. It was because I knew it was coming. I took the outside information and what the story was telling me, put two and two together, and was able to guess what the plot twist was. But was that really a spoiler? Or am I just being dramatic?
What’s In a Synopsis?
The first dictionary definition of a “spoiler” I could find says a spoiler is “a person or thing that spoils something”. Ah, yes. *sarcasm* Thank you, Google. What would I ever do without you.
The second definition I found is more clear. “A spoiler is an element of a summary or description of any piece of fiction that reveals any plot elements. Typically, the details of the conclusion, including the climax and ending, are especially regarded as spoiler material”. Yes, fair enough.
To me, a spoiler is “any bit of information which reveals part of the story”. It’s very simple. If you tell me anything about the story (not just the plot), other than what’s already given on the synopsis, I will… not enjoy that. It feels like a spoiler to me!
side note: this does NOT mean i want you to change the way you write reviews! you should absolutely do what you want! i’m just sayin this is why i don’t tend to read reviews :))
Whenever I discuss elements of a book in a review or with someone who probably hasn’t read the book yet, I make a point to mention that everything I reference is either in the synopsis, or in the very beginning of the book. But even then, am I saying too much? Sometimes I don’t like to read spoiler-free reviews, just in case!
Here’s the thing. If I’m going to read a book, I like to go into it with as little information as possible. All I want to know is the title, the genre, what the cover looks like, and THAT’S IT. I just want to get the general vibe before I commit.
I’m super behind on popular books, but sometimes this is an advantage. My TBR process generally looks like this:
- January: *reads a book’s synopsis, adds it to my TBR*
- February-September: *completely forgets the book exists*
- October: *looks at my TBR and has no memory of what the book is about, but trusts January Xandra’s decisions and starts to read the book*
By the time I actually read a book, most of the time I’ve forgotten the synopsis but I know I’ve seen it before and wanted to read it back then, so… remembering nothing is sometimes useful, I guess. 😌 This is especially useful to me because it doesn’t allow me to put any information together! I can safely go into the book with almost 0% knowledge about it!
This is something I’ve been doing for a while, and I wanted to demonstrate the benefits of this by showing you with a visual…
The Trailer Theory
I’ve talked about this before, but that was back when I was a baby blogger and only two people and their cat read my blog, so –
Just as I don’t enjoy reading a synopsis before reading, when it comes to movies and shows, I like to know as little as possible before watching. I want to know the genre, what the cover poster looks like to get the general vibe, and I also want to know what the reviews are like (the 10/10 stars, but not reviews with actual words). And yes, this also means I don’t really watch movie trailers!
For example, Disney trailers can be really cool if you’re looking forward to a certain movie, but every trailer after the first one shows too much information for my taste. I’ve noticed that Trailer #1 (aka the “teaser”) always shows as little as possible, barely anything at all.
Take a look at these screenshots from the Frozen 2 teaser trailer. These shots are basically the gist of the 2 minute trailer: Elsa attempts to use ice powers to get out into the sea, and the other characters are shown in an autumn setting. No words are spoken.
From this trailer alone, I can only see that there is danger, some pink fire, and a new setting. That’s not very much new information! But then, a lot more is shown in the 1st Official Trailer (aka “Trailer #2” imo).
Notably, there is dialogue in this trailer. Elsa attempts to escape like before, but this time, she fails and sees a horse underwater. There’s a scene with Anna and Olaf about to fall off a waterfall, a shot with the main characters riding through the mountains, a shot of Elsa being chased by some kind of rock monster… you get the point. It’s a lot more than the previous trailer!
But… is any of this really spoiler material? My answer is yes, maybe, but only if you’re paying attention.
Individually, these shots don’t really mean anything, especially if you’ve never seen the first Frozen movie. But from this series of new shots/scenes, I can better deduce what’s going to happen in the story. I can figure out that 1) Elsa and Anna are in trouble again, but it must be important for it to have to do with Pabbie (the rock troll), 2) Anna and Olaf get into some kind of danger. Where’s Elsa? They must have gotten separated, and that doesn’t seem good, either, 3) Elsa’s ice powers seem to be getting stronger and more strange… maybe the trouble they’re all in is her fault.
I could go on and on about these kinds of things, but I’m trying to keep this short. 😅
The more information we get about a story prior to actually experiencing it, the more we can figure out what’s going to happen.
With a synopsis or a review, it can kind of be the same thing. The more you know, the easier it is to put the information together and guess an outcome. Even if they don’t specifically give away any of the major plot points, they could lead you to deduce what might happen, either before you read the book, or while you’re reading and remember what the review or synopsis said.
Can Content Warnings Be Spoilers?
No. Content warnings and trigger warnings are not spoilers. At least, not if they’re done correctly.
Examples of warnings include: death, domestic abuse, gore… etc. Usually, these are included in a review or in a post about the book in question.
If a review includes warnings in this way, it’s not really spoiling anything! Saying there’s “death” in the story doesn’t really give any context. It could have been the death of someone before the events of the book, it could be side characters, or it could even be the main character. It simply isn’t enough information to be a spoiler. It’s good to include warnings, so please! Do it more often.
One of the reasons I’m pointing this out is because I was recently in a situation where I had to try my best to explain the warnings I had in a review, without actually giving things away.
Recently, someone replied to one of my reviews asking about a particular warning, asking me how intense it was, so I explained to them every scene which included something along those lines. It was difficult to explain the scenes without “spoiling” some of the story, but everyone has a different definition of what a “spoiler” is to them. Since I was being vague about every situation, it didn’t seem very spoiler-like, in the end.
So maybe… something is only a spoiler depending on the context.
Here are the five levels of spoilers. Let’s go back to the example of Frozen, since I’m sure you’ve seen it already if you ever wanted to, and if you haven’t, you’re probably not interested.
1) Out of context, saying something like “there’s death” in the movie doesn’t really give you much information. 2) If I told you that “someone dies in the beginning of the movie”, you’d have more information, but at that point, you would know that there’s more to the story, and you wouldn’t know who died. 3) Then, if I mentioned that “the parents where the ones who died, within the first 5 minutes,” you would recognize that as a typical Disney trope and would therefore be unsurprised, and you would also know that there’s definitely a lot more to the plot. The third statement is certainly a spoiler, but at least its not a major plot point in the conclusion. 4) I could tell you that “some almost dies at the end, but is saved by love,” that’s a bit more spoiler-like, but you still don’t know who it is until 5) I mention that Anna is the character who almost died, and Elsa saved her with sisterly love.
And yet… there’s still one more aspect about spoilers I have to mention.
It’s All About The Journey
Looking back on my anecdote at the beginning, there was certainly more to the book than a sad plot twist at the end. Perhaps a simple comment like that shouldn’t be considered a spoiler, because it technically didn’t reveal anything.
When I read the book and the plot twist began to take place (it unfolded over the course of 40 pages), I immediately said, “Oh! That’s weird. That must mean [insert plot twist conclusion here]!” The main character was still at the beginning go the plot twist arc, and she did not know what was going on, but I did. Instead of being confused and nervous with her, I lost some of the excitement and surprise that the MC felt when she reached the plot twist conclusion.
I was able to guess at what the major plot twist could be by taking the information I had already gotten from the beginning, and thinking about what the craziest plot twist could have been. While the plot twist was kind of out there, I still guessed it based on what the characters had been previously discussing. It was… the equivalent of reading a science-fiction book, and then towards the end, the main character woke up in a contemporary setting and then had to figure out what just happened.
I lost that connection with the MC during the plot twist… but for the other 300 pages of the book? My reading journey was not effected at all, not “spoiled” in any way.
In the end, what really matters is the journey the book takes you on. Some people say, “if a spoiler truly ruins the story for you, then the story wasn’t very good to begin with”, and I really agree with that. Your enjoyment should be determined by how you felt about the story along the way, not by the fact that you happened to know one of the many concluding details.
If that spoiler takes away your entire experience, then there should have been several other things in the book for you to enjoy, and its sad that those things were not included by the author. (or maybe you should have DNFed it!) And then there’s also the “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey!” quote, and that works too. 😌
If you’ve gotten this far into the post… thank you. :’) Did it make sense to you? Haha, if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s make long and very specific discussion posts, so I’m very appreciative of you reading my ramblings.
How do you feel about spoilers? Do you read reviews before reading the book? Have you ever felt truly spoiled on a book’s plot?
Chat with me about it!
Happy reading, everyone! Have a lovely day! Please stay safe and healthy!