What I Consider a Spoiler (And What I Don’t)
Readers have wildly different opinions on what constitutes spoilers. Some people want to know literally nothing about a book before they go it–they might even avoid reading the jacket copy!–while others basically just don’t want to know how everything ends. Personally, I have a middle ground for spoilers. I usually don’t want people to reveal major plot points, but I don’t really mind hearing about details. In trying to be sensitive to other readers, however, I do attempt to mark spoilers on the blog. But what does that really mean? Here’s a breakdown:
I’ll Mark It As a Spoiler
- Anything the author clearly thinks is surprising. I might have predicted it from page one, but if the author meant it to be a plot twist, I won’t mention it without a spoiler warning.
- Large plot events. I’ll mention random details that occur even very late in the book, but if it’s particularly relevant to the plot and not mentioned in the jacket copy, it’s probably a spoiler.
- The ending. We all know that middle grade and even YA almost always have happy endings. Conclusions are not hard to predict. However, most people find book endings sacred, and I respect that.
I Won’t Mark It As a Spoiler
- Any “surprise” that’s revealed within the first 20 pages of the book. Ok, it may not be info that made it into the jacket copy, but if it’s told to the reader in the first chapter, that seems pretty much like background information to me.
- Something so, so obvious it’s not worth pretending it’s surprising. I’ve only done this in a handful of reviews because I know this is completely subjective, but I have mentioned plot details that are so glaringly obvious literally anyone could have seen them coming from chapter 1.
It May Not Be Possible to Write a Truly Spoiler-Free Review
However, for those who like to go into books completely, 100% blind, I’m not sure there can be something that’s a truly spoiler-free review. If I want to have a completely surprising experience while reading a book, I try to avoid reading anything about the book at all for some of the following reasons:
Thoughtful Reviews Are Often SPECIFIC
We all know from writing lessons in school that one of the cardinal rules of convincing writing is to back up your claims with evidence; the same rule applies to reviews. I like reviews that are thoughtful and in-depth, but this usually means the reviewer has to tell me something specific about the book. If they didn’t love the main character, they need to say why. If they thought the pacing was off, they need to say when. If they thought the book was the greatest thing they’ve ever read, they still need to give me reasons. Without details, the review falls flat–and it also begins to sound generic. You can only write so many reviews when you flail about how great the main character is (without telling the reader specifically why he or she is so great) before all your reviews will start looking the same.
Even Generic Statements Can Be Spoilers
Sometimes people think they’re writing safe, spoiler free reviews, but to the careful reader, anything can be a tip off. Sometimes people write statements as generic as “I didn’t like the ending” or “I thought the conclusion was brave” and I immediately will translate this sentence into something like “The main character dies.” I’ve rarely been wrong. The same is true for books that rely heavily on plot twists to be entertaining. Sometimes all it takes it mentioning that a major plot twist exists to spoil the book for another reader.
There Are Unspoken Time Limits on SPOILERS
I firmly believe that avoiding spoiling newly released (especially highly anticipated) books for other readers is important; however, if you don’t read the book fairly soon after release, expecting others to never talk about the book in your presence becomes more difficult. It’s still good manners for people to avoid mentioning major plot twists or other large spoilers, but leaks are bound to happen. And for books that have become ingrained in popular culture (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight), trying to avoid hearing/reading spoilers is essentially like trying to avoid learning the ending of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet–impossible. (As a child, I learned that Romeo and Juliet die before I even knew who Shakespeare was!)
I Don’t Really Mind Spoilers
Ultimately, however, I’m not big on avoiding spoilers. I try to avoid them for very big books I’m really looking forward to, and which I intend to read nearly immediately after release. Yet my philosophy has always been that a good book is still good even if you know the plot. If the primary thing a book has going for it is that the plot is suspenseful or surprising, that book is not going to stand up well to a reread. The best books reveal new things, layers of nuance and subtlety, on subsequent reads, and don’t put all their value in the plot. If Shakespeare can literally open Romeo and Juliet with a plot summary and still get readers invested in the story, he’s doing something right.
What’s your stance on spoilers? Do you avoid them or go looking for trouble? What do you think a spoiler is?