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Spoilers make me happy: an example

This entry will have mild spoilers for Alif the Unseen, but I promise to put them behind a cut. If you're coming directly to his entry (and so won't see the cut), it's the fourth paragraph you want to avoid (unless you've already read the book or don't mind mild spoilers).

I only just started reading this. I like it already. The prologue has a spirit talking about how symbols don't carry hidden messages, they are, themselves, the message. Then the story proper begins. Alif [an alias] is a computer hacker in an unnamed Gulf Coast country. He helps people--activists, jihadis, whoever--who want to be active on the Internet avoid detection and capture. His elegant, upperclass (he is not upperclass) secret girlfriend has just broken up with him because she is to be married to someone else, and although he's all for running away together, she tells him no, forget it, it's over, I never want to see a hint of your presence on the Internet ever again.

I wondered if that was just an inciting event of some sort or if she was going to figure in the rest of the story. I flipped randomly through the book and didn't see her name. Maybe that whole incident was just going to be an Example of something. I didn't want that to be the case (not sure why). So I asked cafenowhere, who'd recently finished the book, if she was going to figure in the story more, and cafenowhere told me yes.

And I thought that was spoilers enough. But then I happened to be flipping through the book again, and this time I saw her name. And I saw that she was going to be kind of an asshole. More than kind of. And then I saw that another female character, introduced equally early on, was going to have a positive role in the story. And those two discoveries were big--not in the plot sense--I'm too early on in the story for them to make plot sense yet--but in the emotional sense. I felt so relieved to know where at least one emotional thrust of the story was going to go. And this sets me so at ease, I can't even tell you. I don't know how I'll feel about how the author unfolds it--she'll do an excellent job or a mediocre job or a poor job; it's in the future yet. But I know where she's going, at least on one emotional, interpersonal line. I can just relax and see how she accomplishes it.

That, in a nutshell, is why I often like spoilers. Not always. Sometimes I deliberately don't spoil things for myself. But when I do, it's because of not liking a certain sort of tension. I like to get that out of the way and focus on other things.

The plot is only just beginning. The characterizations are only just beginning. So far so good--I'm enjoying it!


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2015 11:09 pm (UTC)
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:18 am (UTC)
I think there are a lot of us!
Aug. 19th, 2015 01:10 am (UTC)
I hate spoilers, but I don't lose my shit over them. And I loved that book. I nominated it for a Hugo the year it was eligible.
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:19 am (UTC)
I'm really loving it so far.
Aug. 19th, 2015 01:32 am (UTC)
I don't generally mind too much about spoilers, because what's important is how it all happens. (If spoilers really spoiled, who would ever read a book twice?)

In the case of one fanfic I'm following right now, I would actually appreciate knowing that something really very unhappy isn't going to happen. I'm not game to ask the author, in case I put the idea into her head. :(

editing to add: But even so, and even though I have no plans to read the book, I didn't look under the cut. Consistency is not my forte. :)

Edited at 2015-08-19 01:34 am (UTC)
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:26 am (UTC)
Consistency is not my forte

Mine either! I find this especially to be the case if I try to make generalizations about things I like or don't like--I'm always finding exceptions or deviating cases, so much so that I almost never make generalizations anymore (or they're so broad as to be not very useful).

There've been times when I regretted spoilers. I inadvertently discovered The Big Death that happens at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That was so very, very unexpected that knowing it was going to happen just made me miserable through the whole book. No doubt if I hadn't known it was coming, it would still have made me miserable when it happened, but at least I wouldn't have had to know it was coming in advance.
Aug. 19th, 2015 02:22 am (UTC)
My mother once told me that in Japan, a storyteller tells the audience the ending of the story before they begin. I wonder if it's out of a similar cultural dislike of particular kinds of tension.

Personally, I've never minded much one way or the other. If anything, I've found that I often enjoy stories more on the second or third read/watch, because I know ahead of time that it isn't going to drop the ball in the last section. And since I already know the outline, I can relax and better appreciate the details. (I remember this being especially true of the new Mad Max movie - there were so many ways that plot could have gone so wrong. But on rewatching, I didn't have to worry, and there was such a wonderful wealth of background information that contributed meaningfully to character and backstory.) I do enjoy the excitement of discovering a new story, but it's not unlike watching a tightrope performance - you can tell the person is skilled from the beginning, but even skilled performers occasionally misstep before they reach the other side. And the more ambitious the story, the higher the emotional stakes as you approach the end.
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:34 am (UTC)
Oops, sorry about that! I posted the comment for heliopausa here in reply to you by mistake.

Regarding storytelling in Japan, that's not been the case in my experience. Japan has lots of live storytelling traditions, but I've never had the end revealed to me ahead of time--but maybe in some particular story? I'll ask around. But with telling traditional tales (like, say, the stories in the Tales of Heike), everyone knows what's coming because they're well known stories, so maybe in that sense.

But yeah, it's precisely the not-needing-to-worry and enjoying the ride that I like. And, as I said here, knowing where to put my emotional allegiance. I think an author may want you *not* to know that--may prefer you to feel ambiguous--but there's an emotionally primitive part of me that just wants to be wholeheartedly waving the flag of one particular character or cluster of characters.

.... I mean, not really, not always. With some stories the whole point is to explore lots of different characters and to be rooting for and caring for all of them, and it precisely **isn't** supposed to be team X or team Y.


But to go back to what you're saying, *yes* to the tightrope analogy!
Aug. 19th, 2015 03:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm not sure where she got that from - maybe there's a particular style of storytelling she was referring to? Ah, well. It was the 90s, and before Google was available to quickly double-check such things.

"Emotional allegiance" is a very good way of putting it. I think that's largely why Disney's so enduringly popular - they've figured out precisely how to mine that emotionally-primitive part of our hindbrain that just wants to root for the good guys, and then put it to catchy songs and a polished presentation. And that's not a bad thing! But it's problematic when that's your entire cultural story diet, because we don't have a mental framework for more complex situations; everything's framed in tribalistic us vs. them. It's one of the reasons I'm glad Miyazaki's films (for instance) have such a strong following in America; his presentation is equally polished, but he's also pretty masterful at showing multiple sides of a character/situation.

I should have guessed you'd have a tightrope-analogy icon. :)
Aug. 19th, 2015 04:41 pm (UTC)
One hundred percent agree about Miyazaki. It's one thing I love about him.

The tightrope walker is Philippe Petit, walking between the towers of the erstwhile world trade center. He talked about life on the wire--I want to live more like that (but it's a distant ideal...)
Aug. 19th, 2015 08:02 am (UTC)
I have a friend who gives always tries to give me book or movie synopses, just like the spoilery play by play one would give a potential agent or publisher. It drives me mad. I don't usually like spoilers, as you might deduce from that. I'm trying, and failing, to think of when I might actually like/want a spoiler as you sometimes do.

I don't know that spoilers have an effect on my ability to reread with enjoyment either. Just because I know how a story is going to play out doesn't mean I can't get other things out of it by reading it again.
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:41 am (UTC)
I think it's quite natural--and much more what the author intends!**--to want to have a fresh, uninfluenced experience the first time through a book or movie. Then you know your reactions are totally unbiased. And it's a great adventure! So yeah, I do understand the mind-set of *not* wanting spoilers, and I sometimes even feel that way... just not all that often.

**Me as author wants way different things from me as reader. It's like the difference between me as bicycle rider and me as car driver....

Edited at 2015-08-19 11:42 am (UTC)
Aug. 19th, 2015 09:07 am (UTC)
A friend was raving about The Martian the other day, so I went straight to wikipedia to read the synopses, before even wondering if it would spoil the story for me. I can see some types of stories where knowing what happens spoils the fun, but they're generally not the sorts of stories I love.
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:54 am (UTC)
Among other things, I like hearing people retell stories. I'm always telling people to go ahead and give me spoilers, in part because I don't mind about them (usually), but in part because that gives them free rein to tell the story the way they want. Sometimes people do tell the story without revealing key things--good reviewers do that--it's a real talent. No two people read (or watch) the same story, so it's a real Rashomon effect to collect lots of versions of a story.
Aug. 19th, 2015 10:36 am (UTC)
What an interesting post - and what an interesting discussion you have started!

Mostly I try to avoid spoilers, but when I come to write about books I realise that I don't always agree with other people about what is and what isn't a spoiler.

And that's before we even get onto books where the writer is playing with a pre-existing story, so you have to know something about that story if you are to enjoy the book!
Aug. 19th, 2015 11:58 am (UTC)
And that's a great point, about what constitutes a spoiler! In a sense, everything beyond the opening chapter could be considered a spoiler. Sometimes book blurb copy reveals major stuff that will happen later in the book--it seems to me that if the publisher/author are going to reveal something, then readers can't consider it spoilers if folks talk about that stuff, but I know not everyone agrees with me!
Aug. 19th, 2015 03:59 pm (UTC)
Ha, do not start me on the subject of back cover copy! I've so often been spoilered by it (that is, told something I would rather not have known until it happened) that mostly I try not to read it! The only consolation is that it is very often wrong or misleading. How does that even happen?
Aug. 19th, 2015 04:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm often struck by how *wrong* it is--like whoever wrote it didn't read the book, or doesn't have much clue about relative importance of things. But yeah, sometimes they do seem to overshare on plot details.

Now I'm imagining blurbs for mysteries that would reveal plot twists. Revenge of the jacket copy writer...
Aug. 20th, 2015 02:45 pm (UTC)
I was thinking specifically of mysteries: the cover copy often goes beyong outlining the set-up into 'and then XXX is found dead in the library...' and I didn't want to know who the next victim would be!

I like your suggestion. Now I'm imagining a mystery in which the person who writes the jacket copy is secretly undermining the author by revealing plot twists, because reasons: jealousy, perhaps, or, as you say, revenge? or because they have committed a murder by just the clever method in the book, and are afraid if the book is successful, someone will make the connection? Indeed, perhaps the author already suspects, and has put the story in the book for just that very reason...

Possibly I read too much crime fiction.
Aug. 25th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)
Possibly I read too much crime fiction.

No no no! I think we've got the seeds of a good story here.
Aug. 19th, 2015 04:09 pm (UTC)
I love spoilers! Still uncertain about that particular book. I saw it heaped with praise, and often all the wrong reasons. (For me as a reader. I don't recollect what they were, anyway, just that I kept thinking, pass on by, this is not the droid you are seeking.)
Aug. 19th, 2015 04:44 pm (UTC)
Well, I'll let you know how I find it! I'm promised stories within stories, which I like.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 19th, 2015 04:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think especially if people have different ways of responding to stuff, it's really good for a person to be allowed to experience something free of the other person's gloss. Like, suppose one person is likely to find a tale of a rescued puppy as heartwarming, whereas another person is likely to respond to it ironically? Both of them might feel enriched by the other person's viewpoint in a discussion after the fact, but probably they'd both be grateful to be able to experience it in their own way first.
Aug. 20th, 2015 05:29 am (UTC)
Spoilers to random book are not the end of the world for me. As there are many other books on my TBR, so I can just move on.

There are many reasons why I still would read the book that was spoiled for me, and once I have actually read it, I may end up enjoying it.

What made me make the effort to write the comment was reading "The Girl With All the Gifts"(that rachelmanija had recommended it so compellingly I just HAD to read it) last evening and when I finished, I instantly thought of this entry - because even if I felt the ending was so right, to use words by rachelmanija "viscerally horrifying but also beautiful and transcendent", if I had known the ending, I would not have chosen to read the book. It would have been too much effort, I would have given up and reached for something else to escape into.

Edited at 2015-08-20 05:46 am (UTC)
Aug. 20th, 2015 10:52 am (UTC)
In the case of that book, it sounds like had you been spoiled by a lesser reviewer (or source) than rachelmanija you might have been thankful to know--due to the ending--that this was a book you didn't want to bother reading. It would have appeared that the spoiler saved you from reading something with an ending you would have disliked--which can be a good purpose of spoilers. But rachelmanija's sense of people's likely reactions (and maybe also her sense of the people who read her reviews) meant that she stressed why you (general you, not you in particular) would like it anyway--and so you tried it, and you did like it.

I'm interested that in general being spoiled means you don't bother reading the book, though. I guess in some cases I have that reaction. In particular, with some of sovay's movie reviews, the review is as satisfying as seeing a movie, and especially if the movie is hard to get, I consider it "watched," having read her review.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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