Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spoiler Alert! (Being Awesome with In-Story Spoilers)

WARNING: This post actually does contain spoilers for HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire and DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. I'll put them between some lines of red stars like this: 


so you know where they are and don't have to read them.
 Okay? Okay.

I've always been kind of a closet spoiler lover. Always sheepishly ask if people have seen the end of a TV show, and could they tell me what happens? Most especially with books - always always ALWAYS flip to the end to see what happens, who dies, who's gotten together.

It doesn't matter that I don't know most of the characters that show up on the last page. In fact, I kind of love "meeting" them before the book even starts, because then when they show up on the page, I can say, "Oh, there you are. I know more about you than the main character does. Welcome to the story."

I'm a freak, right? Well, no. Actually, it turns out, I'm not. Science has proven it!!!

This blog over at Nail Your Novel beautifully breaks down the literary application of this study to be published in Psychological Science. (It's worth a read. Go ahead and click.)

"A story is more than a mere outcome. The story is what happens along the way."

Yes, but will the milk be delicious? Or, *ahem* SPOILED?

But the best spoilers aren't the ones that other people tell you after they've read the book. They're the ones that the author herself writes in as a super-obvious form of foreshadowing. As soon as you read that quasi-spoiler line or paragraph, you just know something's up. And you are completely rabid to read on to find out how the character figures it out too, and what happens when she gets there.

Examples? Obviously.

Here's one from HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire. The two main characters are about to go on a time-traveling mission together. Michael says to Emerson,

"Keeping you safe is as important to me as saving Liam. You know that, don't you?"
"I do. But I want us both kept safe. Listen," I said hesitantly, "I want you to promise me that you won't do anything stupid when we go back, like trying to find out who killed Liam. If we save him, it won't matter who did it."
"It will always matter who did it."
"I understand that, but we can deal with it when we're not in a life-or-death situation. Promise me."
"I won't try to find out who killed Liam."
"You didn't promise me you won't do anything stupid."

Okay, class, what did we learn from the bolded parts? Uh huh. That's right. Michael's going to bite it. Obviously, right?

And since you just know, don't you, that it's going to tear Emerson apart, and that she's going to do something to change it, you have to keep reading all about it. Awesome.


Now, here's one of my faves. The minute I read this scene from Divergent, I first completely freaked out at its awesomeness, then I had to read to the end to see how this whole thing played out.


This is a scene between Tris, who has recently moved away from her family and into the Divergent compound, whose people are known to behave rather severely, and her Mom, who lives with her father in the Abnegation section, whose people are known for their gentility.

"[Mom] sounds gentle, but her hand squeezes my arm so hard I almost cry out from the pain as she drags me away. She walks with me, fast, toward the dining hall. Just before she reaches it, though, she takes a sharp left turn and walks down one of the dark hallways I haven't explored yet.
"Mom," I say.  "Mom, how do you know where you're going?"
She stops next to a locked door and stands on her tiptoes, peering at the base of the blue lamp hanging from the ceiling. A few seconds later she nods and turns to me again.
"I said no questions about me. And I meant it."

Well, at that point we don't even need to ask questions, do we? Because now we know Mom used to be part of Dauntless, that she used to live here. She knows the lay of the land, and she's being pretty severe with Tris. And she's searching for bugs in the lamp before she talks, so she really knows what's up.

 Spoiler, right? But you still need to read on, because you're desperate to know what happened to her that she ended up somewhere else, and why it matters enough for her to be so secretive about it.

[End of all spoilers]

The point is - Awesome writing is, often, about cluing the reader in to story points or character traits before the characters themselves know them. It's not quite writing with spoilers, but it's way stronger than foreshadowing.

The story isn't in what happens at the end, it's in how the characters get there, what happens before and after, and how they react. And that's why I love spoilers - In-story and out.

So, do you love spoilers too? Or do you hate them? What are your favorite (or most hated) in-story spoilers?


  1. I skipped the Hourglass spoilers since I'll be reading it soon. But I loved that twist in Divergent. Didn't see it coming at all.

    I can't read anything that gives away the whole story... unlike some people, who I <3, who will skip to the end and then read the middle!

  2. I usually like those little hints. But that was my one complaint about Divergent (well, one of two). Probably because I got it very early on--her mom's response right after the ceremony tipped me off. So all the later hints just felt like too much and then killed the reveal for me.

    But when you don't see it (as I usually don't) then it does make you press forward.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Leigh! I wouldn't have thought of what you're describing as 'spoilers', more as a form of foreshadowing - a way of making the reader understand something about what will happen without being totally aware of it. But you're dead right that awesome writing has a lot more under the surface than the reader is aware of as they bowl through the story.

  4. @Gina - I just don't understand people like you. I'm not even kidding. How can you read a book without knowing what happens in the end????

    @Heidi - You're smarter than I am. I didn't catch on to Mom until the scene I mentioned.

    @DWC - See, I think this stuff is so obvious, it has to be called quasi-spoilers at least. If I got the info drop, and I'm the person who never knows who did it on Law and Order until the reveal...if it's that obvious...I don't know.

    (Thanks for that blog - obviously it made me feel SO validated!)

  5. Hello, fellow WrAHM. I gave you two awards on my blog today, FYI.

  6. I love the kind of spoilers you listed. I LOVE when I am read something, and I have that aha moment, when I KNOW what's going to happen. It makes it so much sweeter when I'm right. I love being right. But, I never peek ahead. Because, I want to keep wondering and guessing the whole time. (I skipped the Hourglass spoiler, because I haven't read the book.)

  7. I feel like you are WAAAY better at picking up on these things than I am, lol. I see them when I go back through and read a book a second time, but I always miss them on the first pass.

    I do see the spoilers in movies, though. ALL THE TIME. My friends get angry when I don't jump or gasp or get excited about the endings, because I already guessed what was going to happen... >.<

  8. Great post! I never thought about it like this but you're absolutely right. The spoilers start where you don't quite expect them to be.