The idea of book spoilers is everywhere. Podcasts, blogs, even casual conversation. Everyone seems to be trying to avoid knowing anything about a story before the houselights go down or before they crack open the spine. Spoiling a story is like eating someone else’s dessert and serving them the dirty plate. Having a story spoiled? Pshaw, why even bother with it then?
I’m here to suggest this is all baloney.
Several years ago, a psychologist at UC San Diego found that spoilers actually increase, yes my friends increase, your enjoyment of a story. Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt found that it’s low-level predictability that people really enjoy in a story, being able to make connections and figure out how things happen. Because humans like to feel smart, which means plotting may be more fun than being surprised by a plot twist.
This certainly explains the popularity of re-tellings. No one expects a Jane Eyre retelling to skip the harsh beginning, the wife hidden away in the attic, the fire, and the marriage at the end. This is why we have genres, because there are certain things we know to expect from them. Few people would enjoy a romance if the couple decided not to be together, or a thriller where no one was murdered or the suspect was captured within five pages.
Christenfeld and Leavitt suggest that it’s the overall structure and purpose that a spoiler gives to a story which strengthens our enjoyment. This might even increase the narrative tension, because we don’t know how exactly we’re going to get from Point A to Point B. But we like the predictability of knowing that we are going to Point B. And we love knowing more than the character (as long as they aren’t acting too stupid).
So my fellow pro-spoilers, feel free to read the last page of a book before you’re done. Discuss movie plots with friends after they’ve come out. Though obviously we’re not going to be jerks to people wanting to avoid spoilers. Use fiction to connect with others rather than feeling stifled by having to avoid talking about spoilers.
However, if you are vehemently anti-spoilers? Well, maybe you are spoiling your experience of sharing media and connecting with friends by being so rigid about spoilers. And maybe, just maybe, you could be enjoying a story even more with a few spoilers tucked into your brain.