After inadvertently almost giving away major plot twists from Star Trek: Into Darkness to two separate people on the same day (I know, I’m a bad person) I got to thinking about the subject of spoilers.
Giving away spoilers for a movie, episode or book can be ranked somewhere above faux-pas and then range up to what feels like what should be punishable-only-by-death-offence. For example, someone let slip to me that that happened at the end of season one of Game Of Thrones. Yes. I know. Bastard.
So, from personal experience, I know how annoying to bordering on traumatic a spoiler can be. And I got to thinking about why. I feel it is linked to a subject I’ve posted about a few times before: about how, when we read(/watch/listen), maybe the reason why we read, is that we like to escape, be swept away, experience something other. I muse about this in You Believe me, Right?, Spice and Realism: Writing the Love Interest and What’s Your Genre?
It may, in fact be, taken as read that the reason fiction exists is because people like to be submersed in something other than their own experience. For entertainment, for reflection, to learn, the reasons go on and on. I like to sink in and get swept away. I want to be there. I’ve already discussed what a jarring and potentially fatal flaw I find poor or contrived language to be: the minute the writer shows themselves enough so that I’m taken a pace back from the action, when I want to be in the thick of it, I am put off.
So when this is done well and right, you are in there with the characters and you discover as they discover, you understand why they react the way they do and can’t wait to see what they do next.
So if someone tells you what has happened next, or later or even at the end, you’re suddenly divorced from the characters’ head space. You’re not experiencing it as they are any more. And you often want to hit something.
Ignorance truly can be bliss.
Not giving away spoilers, as well as perhaps good social etiquette, is something perhaps to also keep in mind as you write. You probably know what’s going to happen to whom or as a result of what in your narrative. Even if you like to go with the flow and see where your writing takes you, you’re still writing the consequences of each action as you go along and you probably have a rough of idea of how it’s all going to pan out. The big stuff at least.
But remember, your characters don’t. At least, not everything, not the way you do. I find it sometimes tricky, but you have to try and write your characters’ actions and reactions without considering what they will give rise to in the future. It’s difficult, I find, because you have to lay plot foundation and develop character with the knowledge of why you’re doing it. You have to start balls rolling and establish relationships.
But you have to try and do it without giving the game away. Two ways to do this are also two of my golden rules: trust your reader and less is more. This is were a beta reader becomes invaluable. They will be able to spot straight away where a detail is irrelevant or redundant and has obviously been crowbarred in to lay the seeds of something later. Sometimes the reader can’t always tell why it will become relevant but they can feel that it will. Even this can throw a reader off.
It’s really bad when you come across something and you can tell what’s going to happen later because of it. I have a few times been able to guess twists in things with the way foundations are laid for them. The writer in me baulks when this happens.
You want the kapow factor. You want people to shout “What the chuff?” and throw the novel across the room. You want to fall off the sofa at the end of season one of Game of Thrones.
Use your beta readers. Listen to what they say and be prepared to cut. Don’t be afraid to strip back on detail and description and let the dialogue, action and reaction lay the foundations. When the twists and plot turns happen, you want them to make sense, you don’t want something there has been no foundation for sprouting out of the blue (unless you’re doing this to make a point, there’s never any hard and fast rules after all) but don’t over-egg the pudding. Trust your reader to pick up what they need with only what is necessary but still go “What? Noooooo!”
I really recommend Game of Thrones for being able to lay foundation for plot twists, but still able to kick you in the proverbials when it actually delivers.
But, yeah, either way…don’t tell anyone the ending. And make sure to remember whether the person you are talking to has already seen Star Trek: Into Darkness before you start comparing it to that other…*ahem*…yes. You get the gist.