Down With Spoiler Alerts

Raise your hand if you find that the concept of the spoiler ruins any real conversation about the craft of writing. I sometimes tell my students that if they flip to the end of the book all they will get is information. Information is not going to spoil the wonder of the journey. Get over the concept of spoilers, I tell them. I don’t know if they really listen.

Jonathan Russell Clark puts it well:

As a participant in a story, the most practical thing to do is ignore what you “know” and let the narrative plunder you for all your spoils, strip your skin off your bones, and let it, in every way it can, spoil you rotten.

Spoil you rotten. Exactly.

The spoiler alert (Caution: read at your own risk, etc.) implies that once you know a fact about the story it’s all over. But it’s not, is it?

charlottesweb_coverCharlotte (gulp) died.

Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

Rosebud was a sled.

Some spoilers are more emotionally loaded than others, I’ll admit. A seven- or eight-year-old needs to be delivered that particular arachnid demise most tenderly.

But I’m talking about writers here, people who want to understand what makes a story tick. If you’re a writer, the facts in a spoiler shouldn’t mean a thing unless you’ve read the pages in between or watched the entire movie. Facts are not what a novel is made up of (or a film). If that were the case, a bulleted list of scenes would do the trick and none of us need ever reread anything.  For the seven-year-old who first encounters Charlotte, rereading is everything. Rereading unpacks the beauty of friendship, of life, of loss and healing and regeneration. At that point, the child reader has gone beyond spoilers.


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