Monday, March 2, 2020

That Pesky Plot Spoiler

It's the time of year again when students return to Uni, including older ones like myself. After my first week back, I knew I'd be altering the way I post on this blog for the duration of the semester. Much as I love it, I won't be so rigid about keeping a regular book blog that it's like a fourth subject. That would be no good at all.

So I'll be posting roughly fortnightly instead of weekly and even delving deep into my archives for old posts to dust off and tweak, like this one. I'd love to know if you've been told off for this sort of thing, as I have from time to time.

We all know book reviews are way different from plot summaries. Their purpose is to give readers an idea about whether or not they might enjoy a particular book. If we love a book, we want to sing its praises. And if we find ourselves let down, we may want to give others the heads up before they commit. Since they're for people who haven't read the book, giving away too much of the story line is a big no-no. It's generally recommended that nothing which happens after the 50% mark should be written about in great detail. Some say it should be only 25%.

I know some people who are walking, talking plot spoilers (most definitely talking). My husband is King Plot Spoiler. He only needs to mention the name of a story and our nephew has learned to poke his fingers in his ears, shout out, 'LaLaLaLa,' and dash out of the room. My husband is the sort of person who shouldn't write reviews, and thankfully he doesn't.

I make an effort to stick to the 50% guideline when I write reviews, but on rare occasions someone will respond, 'Thanks for the plot spoiler' or some equally snarky comment. It's easy to feel chastened, but I've come to believe that spoiler accidents are a peril that goes with the territory of book reviewing.

It's a problem that seriously bothers some people. I've met several lovely ladies, who are courteous, considerate and understanding in the normal course of a day. Yet if they think they've got the whiff of a plot spoiler, they turn into raging beasts. It's like waving a red flag in the face of a bull. They hurl abuse at the poor reviewer as if she's gone on a killing rampage rather than let a few details about a story slip.

But I believe we would be kind to cut reviewers a bit of slack, if they are genuinely trying hard to do the right thing. Just as chocolate bars come with the warning, 'There may be traces of nuts', perhaps book reviews should have similar disclaimers. 'While great care has been taken to keep this review spoiler free, there may be traces of story line due to the nature of the processing'. I've read a number of articles about the art of writing excellent reviews. Here are some random snippets of advice which might help to prove how murky the waters can get when it comes to making reviews completely uncontaminated.

1) Tell us who your favourite character was, and why.

Well, just say the author planned him to be a red herring. From what we know of him in the first few chapters, he may well be a heartless criminal. And maybe that's exactly what the author intends us to wonder at that stage. Yet if enough reviewers write something like, 'I really loved Alex,' then surely we approach the book with a bit of a spoilerish impression that he'll be sound.

2) Explain why the book made you laugh or cry.
I picked up a novel that seemed set to be a whimsical, light-hearted comedy. Yet a few reviewers had written, 'The ending was absolutely gut-wrenching.' Even though no specific details have been revealed, isn't it still verging on spoilerish when we know from the outset that we have to brace ourselves for something?

3) What was your favourite part of the book?

Here's my warning to reviewers. If it happens to come after the 50% (or even 25%) mark, you should tread very carefully indeed. Don't be fooled by the community of seemingly docile readers. They may well take your vague impressions like a whiff of blood.

If you are trying your best to stick to the rules when you're writing reviews, I wouldn't feel too devastated if somebody accuses you of spreading plot spoilers. Read over it to see if they have a point, then either edit it, delete it, or ignore it. And readers, if you're the sort of people who need a guarantee that everything is completely spoiler free, then maybe you should treat all review forums as a bit of a land mine area and stay out. Or if you do enter, do so at your own risk.

Image courtesy of pixabay


  1. It is difficult to keep a regular blog up. Even putting up one post a week can be tough. Life can be busy.

    I see my blog as a place to talk about books. Sometimes I do a straight review but sometimes I talk about other aspects. I often post spoilers. I try to always put up warnings however.

    Good luck with school!

    1. Thanks Brian, yes, warning people so often does the trick. Or at least takes the onus off us because we were warned. Some books are just very hard to discuss without a few. Im one of the people who don't mind as much as others. If we know what's coming, we can look out for other things, like writing techniques.

  2. I'm one of those readers (and reviewers) who tries not to disclose anything that happens after the 25% mark unless it's already been "spoiled" in the title*, back cover description, or it's historical fact.

    *I'm currently reading a novel with "Duke" in the title ... but I'm at 35% and there is no duke in sight. My guess the hero is actually a duke but is hiding that from the heroine, but is that a spoiler, given the title?

    Having said that, I do appreciate reviews that say the ending was gut-wrenching, as it clues me into making sure I don't read that when I'm looking for something light and funny.

    1. Hi Iola,
      I try the 25% rule too.

      I've remembered a story you once told about someone telling you off for revealing a spoiler in a novel set on board the Titanic 😉

      I appreciate those clues about the tone of the book too. One of the best parts about reading reviews is being able to gauge whether it might be what we're looking for.

  3. Hahahaha, I'm literally rolling up my sleeves as I type this because I have a LOT of thoughts. I think book bloggers/independent reviewers occupy a special space in the literary world. I can COMPLETELY understand being frustrated by a plot spoiler on a book's jacket copy, or in an interview with the author. To my mind, those are places where one could reasonably expect to get a "taste" of the book, but not the full meal. Book blogs and full-length reviews, however, are more like book clubs - would one show up to a book club to discuss a book, and then complain that the other attendees had "spoiled" it for them?

    If avoiding spoilers is THAT important to someone, I would say: don't Google the book! Don't read the reviews! Leave that space for folks who have read the book and want to share their thoughts in full.

    I'm very much of your husband's ilk: I do not give one sh*t about spoilers. Most of the books I review are decades old (at minimum), so I really feel no compunction about going into the nitty gritty of the big twist reveal or whatever. Sometimes I'm a little more judicious when I'm reviewing a more recent release. But, ultimately, my reviews are where I discuss a book in its entirety. If I'm planning to read a book and I don't want it "spoiled", I don't read other reviews or commentary on it - hardly rocket surgery, eh? So, I say, BOO to those commenters who got all snarky about your spoilers - that's on THEM, not you ;)

    1. Thanks for the great feedback Sheree :)

      One of things I really like about your blog is your upfront approach to spoilers. Everyone is duly warned that if they want to avoid spoilers from 50 to 100 years ago, keep away.

      Yeah, I've had a few snarky comments over the years saying, 'Thanks for the spoiler.' My immediate reaction is if you don't want to get hit, don't visit a landmine area :)

      And you're quite right, when we make an effort to read a chunky book from a bygone era, we don't necessarily want to limit ourselves to not talking about big reveals and breathtaking twists.

      As for your first comment, I did come across a bad one once on the dust jacket blurb of The Phantom of the Opera. It revealed the identity of the Opera House ghost, which was going a bit far! But for normal enthusiastic readers on public forums, yeah, the spoiler police should lay off!

  4. I really don’t like spoilers myself—I’m close to the fingers in the ears and babbling to avoid a book from being spoiled. Because I am sensitive to this, I try to write my reviews without spoilers (although with some classics, I bend). What I am looking for in a review is not a synopsis, but a sense of setting, tone, premise, and writing style so that I can assess whether I will like a book.

    1. Hi Jane, I do believe there really is an art to this, and I love the reviews of anyone who lures us in by the setting, tone, premise and style as you say. Having said that, I do enjoy coming across classics with such well known plots that giving away parts we shouldn't isn't such an issue. I've got myself in a bit of hot water over Harry Potter & the Cursed Child :)

      And Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr Hyde is one I believe was probably over-spoiled far more than Robert Louis Stevenson would ever have been happy with. When we actually get around to reading it, we can see how he meant the revelation to wow readers, which never happens anymore. A bit sad :)