Spoiler Alert: People Enjoy Books More When They Know The Spoilers

from the skip-to-the-end dept

Might as well put the details upfront in this one: “spoilers” apparently don’t “spoil” anything. It’s pretty standard these days for people to offer up “spoiler alert” warnings when revealing a surprising twist in a story that some might not have read/seen/heard. However, a new study, that tested a variety of books both with and without key points “spoiled,” found that people actually seem to prefer a book if they’ve been told a spoiler ahead of time. While this surprises me a bit (though I’d never really thought that much about it), it makes sense. While I certainly enjoy books/movies with twists, I’ve certainly read and seen stories while knowing the twist ahead of time and didn’t mind it. Instead, in those cases, I end up paying more attention to how we get to the twist, and looking for foreshadowing and whatnot. I can’t recall ever feeling “cheated.” There are definitely books and movies with twist endings that took me totally by surprise, which I enjoyed. But I’m not sure I wouldn’t have liked them just as much if I’d known the “secret” going in.

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Comments on “Spoiler Alert: People Enjoy Books More When They Know The Spoilers”

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MrWilson says:

This is one of those short-sighted studies that makes sweeping conclusions without considering other possibilities. Not to mention, there are people for whom this is simply not true, so this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to ruin a story for someone because you think they’ll prefer it spoiled.

The study was only done with short literature that it didn’t seem like a lot of people enjoyed reading at all. What would have happened if they tried this experience with modern movies like The Sixth Sense or the Usual Suspects?

Further, people like myself prefer to figure out the ending before we get to it, whether it’s a book or a movie, so having it spoiled ruins the fun of trying to deduce what’s going to happen from the available clues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Some like it, others don't...

I used to do that all the time as a teenager. These days I get anxious if I flip a book open to the last page and read anything there by mistake.

I dunno what happened between then and now (now being a lonnng way from teendom).

I’d much prefer things not be spoiled for me, I appreciate warnings. It’s not the end of the world, all things in perspective, but part of the reason I buy a book or see a movie is that I want to see how it unfolds for myself. I won’t even read descriptions of a Law and Order rerun because they give too much away in a couple of sentences…and I swear I’ve seen ’em all at least once.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually for good stories I’ll prefer reading it twice, with the second time have experience like what you have when you’re read the spoilers. These two types of reading experience will give you different feelings (especially if it were horror type)

By reading spoilers, it actually take away the chance that I read the stories with the first type of experience (without knowing what happens next), so I’ll avoid reading spoilers if I decide to read it later.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Missing data: 'Hedonic Rating'

I’d read that piece and have some fairly major objections to it. First and foremost is the lack of a *link* to the source paper, so we’re only left with Jonah’s interpretation of the experiment and can’t readily go check the original paper to see what, if anything has been left out.

Most importantly though, they don’t explain what they *mean* by ‘hedonic rating’. I love stories with interesting twists where the author carefully orchestrates things such that there are (at least) two plausible interpretations of the facts, subtly nudges people towards one of them for most of the story, but then reveals at the end that they meant the second one. When they do this well, the moment of revelation is a great step in the story, since even if you didn’t pick it, you get to go back and reinterpret events in light of the new data and see that it makes sense. (Heck, the whole process is a beautiful metaphor for the mechanisms of scientific discovery and reevaluation of a hypothesis in light of experimental data).

With such stories, I get to enjoy them in two different ways – the first time, attempting to guess what is going on, seeing how well I can divine the author’s real intent, and the second and subsequent times, appreciating *how* the author sets out to mislead the reader, while at the same time remaining consistent with their *real* intent.

So, the article sounds suspect to me, since the very concept of distilling the process of enjoying a story down to a single ‘hedonic rating’ sounds like reductionist claptrap. The kind of story I want is going to depend on a whole host of other factors. Perhaps I want to be challenged in trying to guess where a story is going, perhaps I want to curl up with a familiar tale to pass some time without having to think too much.

Now, that said, I don’t understand people that are *rabidly* anti-spoilers, either, especially when they’re happy to reread books they like. You can’t get a much bigger spoiler than having read, seen or heard the entire story before.

Ragaboo (profile) says:

Why not have it both ways?

Sounds to me like a good book would have it both ways. Who says there only has to be one interesting twist or key plot point? The author can reveal some key point early, but nevertheless include a key twist. That method gives you both a reason to read the introduction with an eye to foreshadowing and build-up as well as a fun surprise at the end.

Although I wasn’t blown away by The Book Thief, the author of that used the above method, basically telling you flat out at the beginning that someone important dies at the end. Then in the middle, he tells you some other important people who will die in the end. There’s still some unexpected twists before you’re done, though.

ANoiXioNA (profile) says:


Sports spoilers should be a crime

There should be a 24hour wait until the radio/TV spouts results….

People record things….. want to watch them….when they get home….

Books…Movies…TV Shows…

Stop Spoiling other peoples enjoyment

Spoiling is unacceptable On the net and websites…..
But the traditional media hasn’t got a clue…..
Loud mouth twats who have a form of Spoiler Tourette’s syndrome

ethorad (profile) says:


Only the books point.

I think watching a sports match is very different to reading a book, particularly for those invested in one of the teams. There the experience is geared around a collective realisation of the end result after giving the expense and excitement a suitabale length of time to build.

I think more generally while people may still “enjoy” a book or sports match if they already know the result the experience will be different, and may not be the experience they want. As spoilers take that choice away from people they should continue to have warnings. People can then make a decision as to what type of experience they want – remembering that they can always reread or rewatch something, but they can’t unlearn the result.

ANoiXioNA (profile) says:


Well someone didn’t RMFC.

I am NOT one of those “”people who actually seem to prefer”” spoilers.

The study doesn’t speak for me. Oh .. it says it does.

For me…… There is no valid justification for spoiling another’s enjoyment.

Eg… you get a book/film “The Usual Suspects” or “Fight Club”
Before you read it, someone tells you who Keyser S?ze / Tyler Durden is.
The whole story is spoiled. The whole experience is spoiled.

Yeah “”people actually seem to prefer a book if they’ve been told a spoiler ahead of time.””

NOT I and many other people.

Now did you RTFC ?

Sacal says:

Intent is important

Missing from the above discussion is any reference to the intent of the author. If there is a revelatory plot twist (or two, or more) then obviously the story was constructed this way intentionally. As readers, we certainly have the option of reading a story any way we choose. By exposing ourselves to spoilers are we not undermining the author’s intent, and therefore not having the experience that the author worked so hard to convey?

Ken Shear (user link) says:

Short story spoilers

Post makes a good point that I tend to agree with. But, the research is only about short stories, which everyone expects to have a twist at the end. Would it be the same with a novel? I personally think, probably so, but this posting and most others I’ve seen overgeneralize about the research — what people feel about a short reading experience doesn’t always carry over to a longer one. So, overgeneralization alert here!

freak (profile) says:

I think I can see the argument.

It’s much stronger for me in RPG’s: If I know beforehand what the setup is, what the railroading is, I can say: “That’s cool, I’ll roll with it”.

If we only learn what the premise is, by say, my character doing something Out Of Character and the villain using that to blackmail us, well, that’s just frustrating.
OTOH, if the GM tells us beforehand, that we’re being captured by aliens to fight in an intergalactic arena, I can accept that premise, and not be bothered so much when they threaten to expose an entire city to hard vacuum unless we give in to their demands. (Even though it’s OOC)

Robert says:

I’ve had people spoil a few books and games for me. Sometimes I read the work anyway and enjoy it, other times the work isn’t good enough to really bother with now that the ending is known. Pillars of the Earth (show and book) were spoiled and I just couldn’t bother with sitting through the rest. FF7 was spoiled and I still played through. I guess, as other people have mentioned, if the ending is already obvious it doesn’t matter as much.

Pixelation says:

I hate spoilers...

I had a coworker tell me about the Shawshank Redemption. He told me the biggest plot twist of the whole movie. (I didn’t know it was until I watched). When I got to that point in the movie, I already knew what was going to happen. I was so pissed. It was still a great movie BUT the added enjoyment of a surprise was taken away. I never let him tell me anything about any movie he saw after that.
To those who like to spoil, if you aren’t bright enough to describe the subject without giving away plot twists and turns, don’t do it.

Ralphoo (profile) says:

For certain works, it matters

Most of the time I would agree that having a plot “spoiled” doesn’t really make much difference. For example [Spoiler alert!] in the film Titanic, the ship goes down and a lot of the passengers die. Darn, did I just ruin it for you?

Occasionally there is a book or, more often, a film, where the ending really is a surprise. I will mention “The Sixth Sense” without actually Spoiling it for anyone. I would not have gotten the same impact from that film had I known the ending.

mdavidthomson says:


Hitchcock always hated surprise twist endings and whodunnit’s. Anything that relied on the ending.

His argument was that if you know the “surprise” (there’s a bomb under the table) then you get audience involvement for the whole duration. If you just get the surprise (the bomb under the table goes off in a big bang) then you only get a brief moment of real involvement out of your scene.

If something is well made or told, then it shouldn’t matter. In fact, you’re appreciation should increase the more times you read something.

That said, I do think there is something wonderful about not knowing what’s going to happen. I personally love going to see a movie and not even knowing anything more than seeing the poster in the foyer.

Sometimes the movie is terrible, but seeing something with no idea of what is happening can be really fantastic if it is good.

Dustin says:

One of the best things I’ve found about the Kindle app on my iPod is the fact that there’s no “skip to the last chapter” option on most of the books I buy. For me this study is definitely NOT true, as I’ve found that once I know the twist or end I tend to lose interest. I do so for games, for books, for movies, everything.

There’s a difference between a needless twist ending and the culmination of the full sequence of plot events. This is something any half decent author (and reader) understands.

Kevin Carson (user link) says:


What I hate is when there’s foreshadowing and then the author punks out on me. Example: Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Remember the Chekov quip that if there’s a gun over the fireplace in Act I it’ll be fired in Act III? King not only had that gun over the fireplace, it was pointed to, remarked on, dissassembled, cleaned and reassembled about umpteen times in the first half of the book. Every indication, every foreshadowing, was of a climactic confrontation between the protagonists and Big Jim the good ol’ boy selectman at the big public meeting. But it fizzled out.

Given King’s explanation for the whole episode — a bunch of alien kids just fooling around for the hell of it — it makes me wonder if the careful setup for a climax followed by his letting the preparations fall apart wasn’t a deliberate attempt to make a point about there being no plot to the real world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sometimes it's the trip, not the destination...

I have a book collecting the earliest newspaper comic strips of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, and the preface contains some great anecdotes about creativity.

One of them was how someone complained to the editor that the stories were getting too predictable. Despite the fact that some fairly major supporting characters might unexpectedly be killed, there was never a worry that Buck himself wouldn’t come through in the end. The editor’s response was that what makes a story engaging is not “if” Buck Rogers will overcome his challenges – he’s the hero who represents all of the positive values they wanted the readers to embrace – the interest was in “how” he would do it.

The art of a good story, in his opinion, was to create fresh, engaging scenarios that fire up the imagination and present obstacles that really so seem insurmountable, and then delivering a story of triumph that makes sense in the end without relying on cheap gimmicks. When you do that you deliver value to the reader, and the readers reward you with loyalty.

As a lifelong fan of comics, I remember this lesson and wince every time I see a supposedly iconic character get “killed”, only to come back in a year or two as part of a log-term marketing strategy. I’ve always viewed that as a cop-out for creators who couldn’t keep raising the bar for crafting engaging stories.

This is also the basis of the great prequels – you know where major parts of the story are headed, but it’s the fun of learning how things got there that delivers the payoff.

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