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Do Spoilers Ruin a Book for You?

Monday, August 20, 2012

I’ve seen lots of articles recently (here, here, here, and several others) about how readers may complain about “spoilers,” yet secretly, they want to know how the book ends before investing the time in reading.

I’ve always said I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want spoilers when it comes to books or movies—I don’t want the “ending” ruined for me. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize it’s not really the ending—it’s the surprises and twists and laugh-lines (or poignant moments) I don’t want ruined. I pretty much want to be guaranteed that the book is going to turn out the way I want it to. Which is the reason I typically only read romance novels. Because I’m guaranteed a happily-ever-after ending. And if I don’t get the ending I want, I have every right to complain about it because the happy ending is an expectation of the genre (just like the mystery being solved is an expectation for the mystery genre).

When Little Dorrit aired on Masterpiece Classic a few years ago, I got drawn into it. And after a few hours of emotional investment in the characters, I pulled up the book summary on Wikipedia and read it to make sure that it would end the way I wanted to—because if it didn’t, I wasn’t going to invest any more of my time/emotion in watching it. With Charles Dickens, you can never be sure!

Then, there’s the Game of Thrones series. I read the first book—devoured it, more like. Loved it. Immediately started reading the second book. And, after slogging for three or four months to get halfway through it, I gave up on reading it. I figured I’d just stick with the TV show. But, as I don’t have cable (not even basic, much less premium), I had to wait for the DVDs. And while waiting, I decided I wanted to see what I’d be missing by not reading the books. So I did my old stand-by—I pulled the summaries up on Wikipedia and read the “spoilers.” And I discovered that (a) it wasn’t anywhere near being finished and (b) I didn’t like the direction (or non-direction, actually) Martin was taking the story nor the number of main characters he kills off in the process. So I decided not to waste any more time with it.

However, I’m not the kind of person who’ll pick up a new-to-me book and immediately read the last page. As I said, I read romance novels for that very reason—so I don’t have to. Now, I have had a few authors pull a fast one on me and have the heroine (or hero) end up with someone else other than the one I wanted them to be with—but those are usually books that are historicals with a romance thread, not true romances. So I’m very careful about trying not to pick those up anymore.

And yet . . .

When it comes to movies based on books, I don’t always read the book before seeing the movie. I don’t usually even look up the summary to see how it will go. So, in some ways, I do occasionally like to be surprised. Just not all the time. It’s weird, I know.

Do you want to know the ending before investing the time to read a book? Do spoilers bother you?

26 Comments
  1. Monday, August 20, 2012 10:57 am

    As a general rule, no I don’t like spoilers. In fact, I’m very careful about reading reviews of books that are on my TBR pile. Instead, I most like to read reviews of books I’ve already read to see how our opinions differ or are the same.

    Speaking of movies: I HATE when the trailer has every single funny, special or dramatic part in it. Leave some for the actual movie, please!

    BTW, I did the exact same thing with Little Dorritt. I started watching it. Wanted to see what direction it went so I looked it up and then decided I didn’t want to waste my time with it ;)

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 8:51 am

      I’m of two minds when it comes to reading reviews . . . if it’s a book/author I know nothing about, I’m more likely to read a detailed review (from one of the review bloggers I trust). If it’s an author I know and one whose book I’ve been looking forward to, I avoid reviews and read them only after the fact, like you.

      As far as Little Dorrit goes, I found out it did have the happy ending I hoped for, so I watched it all the way through. But I haven’t felt the urge to watch it again since then, unlike two other Dickens pieces: Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, which I not only have on DVD but watch occasionally, when I need to get into the early/mid Victorian era mindset.

  2. Monday, August 20, 2012 11:41 am

    I think they are a pain most of the time. I want to see the characters the way they a written not what someone elses idea of that person. Sometimes I wonder if they even read the book.

    Glenda Parker

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 8:52 am

      There are certain screen writers who do a fabulous job of translating an author’s words to the screen—Andrew Davies is one of the main ones. I’m currently reading Wives & Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell) and pulled up the miniseries, which I’ve watched several times over the years. I’m amazed at how many of Gaskell’s original words are heard in that series!

      • Sylvia M. permalink
        Tuesday, August 21, 2012 5:51 pm

        He did a great job with P&P and W&D. I was very saddened by his lack of the novels’ original dialogue in <Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. All the humor was left out of both and the script always came up short. I do enjoy the W&D miniseries, but still sigh at the end, each time I re-watch it, because there is no kiss. :( By the way. I understand that the novel of W&D was never finished and Andrew Davies had to make up an ending for the miniseries. Is there a novel version out there to which another author has added a decent ending? I would love to read it. I own the books Cranford, North and South and Mary Barton. Some day I plan to buy W&D.

  3. Monday, August 20, 2012 1:10 pm

    I don’t like having the ending spoiled, which happened accidentally with The Village.

    The only genre I read reviews for is science fiction. Usually on Goodreads. I’m not interested in the erotica, which dominates romantic science fiction unfortunately, and reading reviews is one of only two ways to find SFR that’s not erotica.

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 8:58 am

      For a while there, M. Night Shyamalan was the master of the twist ending. And if that twist was spoiled before you saw the movie, there was pretty much no reason to see the movie.

      To me, that’s different than saying something about George and Anne getting a happy ending when I’m talking about Stand-In Groom. With the two of them being the only viewpoint characters in the book, as well as its clear labeling and marketing as a romance novel, it shouldn’t spoil anything to say they’re going to get together.

      As I’ve become fond of saying in workshops—it’s not the “what” of the ending that’s a surprise in romance; it’s the “how” of the ending. That’s what I don’t want spoiled for me.

  4. Monday, August 20, 2012 1:44 pm

    Over all, I like to be surprised. There’s way too many tv shows that I didn’t start watching until late in the game (Doctor Who for one), and it annoys me when the suspense is ruined. I can’t wonder whether such and such a character is really gone for good when I see him on the trailers for next season!

    It’s much the same for books, especially stand alones. However, for really long series, it depends on how invested I am by the time I finish the first one and how much I trust the author. If I know I’m going to want to read the rest no matter what happens, I’d rather be unspoiled. But if I’m hesitant if I even want to keep going, especially if it seems questionable to me whether the author is going to take the story places I don’t want to go, I do sometimes look up spoilers.

    • Monday, August 20, 2012 9:55 pm

      Only companions are ever really gone for good. And even they show up again from time to time. I always say spoilers now like River does.

      • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 4:44 pm

        Yeah, but it *was* a companion. And if a specific incarnation of the Doctor goes, then even if the character survives it’s not quite the same.

        Of course, half my problem with spoilers comes from the fact that BBCAmerica keeps airing the episodes out of order, even within reference to a single doctor.

        • Wednesday, August 22, 2012 1:14 pm

          I watched them all on Netflix. Slightly out of order starting with Donna and then straight to the Ponds.

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 9:03 am

      I read a Torchwood novelization, purposely choosing one that featured Owen and Tosh—so given what I know happens to them in the second season of the show, I knew that any jeopardy those characters were put in wouldn’t be all that suspenseful. What I didn’t expect was for the author to spend half of the book wallowing in a problem in the relationship with Gwen and Rhys—are they in love, aren’t they in love, do they have a future, etc. I finally gave up on reading the book and listened to an abridged audio version which got rid of all of that stuff. To me, the relationship stuff was pointless because I already knew what happened in their relationship. If I hadn’t watched the show, I might have gotten caught up in what was supposed to be an emotional roller coaster for those two characters. But it was already “spoiled” for me by having watched the show through. However, if I hadn’t watched the show, I never would have read the book. So it’s a chicken–egg kind of situation with “extended universe” novelizations like that.

  5. Monday, August 20, 2012 2:01 pm

    Depends on the genre. With mysteries I am staunchly against reading the end/discovering the plot because it’s kind of the whole point, you know? In general I don’t care for spoilers. Now, TV shows…sometimes if I’m really worried about someone I’ll look it up. When I got into Doctor Who I read through the plot summaries of each episode on Wikipedia becuase I really wasn’t interested in seeing David Tennant regenerate into Matt Smith and didn’t want to get caught by surprise at the end of Season Four. Soooo I guess it just depends on the story.

    • Monday, August 20, 2012 9:56 pm

      *gasp* Matt Smith is just as awesome as David Tennant! In some ways he’s more awesome because he truly is a mad man with a box. You’re missing some great episodes by not continuing.

      • Monday, August 20, 2012 11:50 pm

        Oh, I know. :) And I will watch it eventually, and I know I will love Eleven. Blame it on Ten being my first doctor…and being in the early stages of an intense crush on David Tennant. :-P Give me six months or so and I’ll be singing Eleven’s praises. :)

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 9:07 am

      Alexandra, I do that sometimes with shows, too. I did that with Supernatural after I’d gotten through the first four or five seasons. I wanted to see where the show was going (because I’d already gotten frustrated with some of the plot devices they’d used a few times)—but reading the episode summaries led me to continue watching the show.

      The opposite happened with Eureka—after the end of the fourth season, when they once again used a time-travel-changes-things plot device (after using it earlier in the show’s run), I read the summaries of the remaining episodes, and I discovered that the time travel changed things in ways I wasn’t happy with. I’d already watched two of the characters develop their relationship and fall in love and (almost) get engaged. I didn’t need for that to be reset back to the beginning and watch it happen again.

      But then there are shows (like LOST) which I came to late and for which I very carefully avoided spoilers once I did start watching it (on DVD first, then online until I was caught up in Season 3). It was one that I wanted to take me completely by surprise.

  6. Kara permalink
    Monday, August 20, 2012 2:30 pm

    I will go ahead and say that I love spoilers! I pretty much always read the ending pages first in a story. There are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part I want to know how it ends before I start it. When I’m in a bookstore, I usually read the first few pages to get a feel for how the story is written and whether I like the author’s style or not, and then I flip to the back page or the last chapter. Most everyone close to me, thinks I’m absolutely nuts to do this, but it truly does not ruin the experience for me! If it ends the way I want, then the rest of the story is an awesome adventure for me. But if I’ve invested many hours in a story, only to end up miserable over the ending, I don’t like that feeling. I guess I feel, that we all have our ways of reading, and whatever you enjoy, do it. Reading should be pleasurable, always!

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 9:15 am

      There have been one or two books in which I’ve looked at the ending before I got there by reading the book all the way through. One was a Christian historical romance by an author who’d been a favorite to that point. Throughout the first two-thirds of the book, all indications seemed to point toward the main female character ending up with the main male character. But as I neared the end, they didn’t seem to be getting closer to coming together. So I flipped to the end . . . and all of a sudden, the heroine was marrying someone who’d been a minor secondary character throughout the rest of the book. In the second book of the series, the author spent the first eight to ten chapters rehashing what happened in the first book and justifying (from the viewpoint of the guy who *should* have been the hero of the first book) why the purported hero and heroine didn’t end up together and setting him up for a new romance. I never finished that book, and I haven’t picked up a book by that author again. If I’d known how the first book ended before I started reading it, I would have either had a different experience (looking for the romance between the girl and the guy she ends up with) or I wouldn’t have spent so much time reading it at all.

  7. Ruth permalink
    Monday, August 20, 2012 3:06 pm

    Honestly I can go either way. Sometimes I find that knowing the ending, or a piece of the puzzle, heightens my anticipation of the ending and my enjoyment/involvement as I watch it unfold. More often than not I’d say spoilers are great fun…the only time I really went “dark” regarding book spoilers that I can recall was for the final Harry Potter.

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 9:18 am

      I so assiduously avoided spoilers for the last HP book (after waiting to get it for hours at B&N on release day) that I closed my eyes as I turned past the table of contents. I didn’t even want the chapter titles to spoil anything for me!

  8. Monday, August 20, 2012 3:19 pm

    I think that’s why I like romance, romantic suspense and mysteries: because I know the book is going to follow the expectations of the genre.

    Where I do like spoilers is where a book goes against the expectations of the genre. I was reading a Regency romance a while back that just wasn’t working for me, so I skipped to the end to see if the final scenes were interesting enough for me to want to read it all. They weren’t. The guy didn’t get the girl – apparently, that is going to take another two books. SO I abandoned it. A ‘romance’ that takes three books to get there just isn’t going to hold my attention any more!

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 9:22 am

      Iola, I think that’s why I depend on those bloggers and their reviews so much. I know within a few sentences of the review if (a) I’m going to want to read the book and (b) if I want to read more of the review and have a few things spoiled for me (like the “how” of the ending, for those that go into that much detail).

  9. Monday, August 20, 2012 4:58 pm

    I dont really like spoilers and Kaye I think Its more what you said. I dont read the end of a book before buying partly cos most books lately I buy online but will sometimes read a little at the end sometimes.
    What I hate is spoilers that give away author secrets or gems they have in a book. One book I read the author had a brother with a disability the hero felt responsible for. he lived in another city. The hero cant get in contact and is worried but the story goes on. Something happens and they are to get on a plane as others arrive. When they get back they find the brother has surprised them with a visit. I guessed it was him but it was a surprise the author planted for readers. I would have been really annoyed if I had heard about this before reading the book as this really added to the story. Its like a blurb that tells you the couple were forced into a marriage of connivence but it didn’t actually happen about 50 pages from the end of the book. I felt it gave to much away in the book. If it had happened early in the book would have been ok but to be near the end when they had fallen for each other anyway it was disappointing.

    With tv I do often read up about some shows. Not sure why I do it more with tv than books.

    • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 9:23 am

      With TV and books, I’ve gotten to the point at which I have a hard time making an investment in a series until I know I can sit down and watch/read a good portion of it all at once—whether it’s watching the first season of a show streaming online or reading the review of a series before picking it up.

  10. Wednesday, August 22, 2012 1:58 pm

    I was going to say (esp in comparison with my husband) I *love* spoilers, but after reading through the comments (well, and the OP) it comes down to “trusting” the story/whatever to be worth my time.

    That is, once I trust something, I *don’t* want to know. For example, I thought about buying the latest season(s) of Bones, or starting a Castle DVD collection, but as I reviewed the IMDB synopses, I realized it was the process of discovery and the solid ending built on that that I was most in-love with.

    Even in the seasons of Bones I currently own (first four, maybe?) there’s only two or three eps that I like to keep watching, and they’re my go-to eps when introducing someone to the show.

    But I will read spoilers for end-of-season eps, because I don’t like cliffhangers.

    Kaye, you say you read for the HEA, and expect the promise of the genre. That’s sort of what I do for/with body-a-week shows: I *expect* the mystery to be solved, yes, but I also expect a great deal of cooperation, and a minimum of moral ambiguity. And Closure. Really-really big on the closure.

    Which is why I’ll avoid ambiguity and the dangling until the next installment is available.

    On some level I’m sure this makes me a wimp, but I know my vulnerabilities, and I’m leaning to work with them.

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