Monday, April 18, 2016

Ramblings from the Stacks: Spoilers

Rule #1 of reviewing is no spoilers. This should be a pretty simple concept and one that's obvious when you mess it up.  Don't spoil the end of the book - the end, end of discussion.

But is it really that simple? Lately, I've been puzzling over spoilers.  I mean what really constitutes a spoiler?  Obviously if I'm talking about a mystery and I say that the butler did it that's a spoiler.  But what if I talk about twists and red herrings?  Is mentioning that the twists and red herrings exist in the plot a spoiler?  Then there's the expected ending.  I don't feel like saying they caught the killer or figured out who it was in a mystery is a spoiler just like saying that the main characters got their HEA in a romance.

Back a year or two ago We Were Liars by E. Lockhart was making the rounds on blog books and I think most of us can agree that it was a freakishly hard book to review because the less you knew going in the better it was.  Everything about the book was a spoiler and for the full shock value you needed to go in blind.  But was I really more shocked in We Were Liars where I knew nothing about what was going to happen then I was when I read Love Story by Erich Segal which has the twist in the first sentence?  I still remember that shock of realization when I realized what was going to happen even though the very first line of the book is "What do you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?

Then there's classics and older books.  Does anyone not know the end of Jane Eyre or Great Expectations?  Or on a more modern note Harry Potter?  How careful should we be about not giving away spoilers in those books?

If you write reviews what are your personal rules regarding spoilers?  I think in general my thoughts are that anything that happens in the first third of a book is fair game and stating that I was happy/disappointed with either the killer reveal or the HEA is okay too.  I also have no problem stating that the end is a cliffhanger but that's mostly because I absolutely hate coming to the end of the book and finding a cliffhanger when I'm not expecting it.

This of course leads to thinking about what I'm really looking for when I read reviews.  I think for me I'm looking for comments about pacing - is a page turner?  Is there a slow spot that gets better?  As well as information on just general enjoyment.  Is there a character who I want to drown in the beginning who gets better?  Do I care that this person was killed in the first place?  Am I going to actually root against the HEA for this couple?

What do you look for in reviews?  What do you think of as a spoiler?


  1. When it comes to writing reviews, I do try to avoid spoilers, or I was add in spoiler tags. And I agree, stuff that happens in the first third of the book is fair game, as well as anything mentioned in the blurb. I also think it depends on each book as well. Like you said, romances always end in an HEA, and readers of romance know this. But other books are best going into it not knowing anything. So I take into account each book as I review it.

    But, on a personal level, I kind of like reviews that have spoilers (as long as they let me know ahead of time). I like knowing things ahead of times often. But that's just me!

  2. Spoilers, twists, and red herrings are all a big NO for me. I want to be surprised along the way. I recently read someone's review on Amazon for FOOL ME ONCE by Harlan Coben. This reviewer summarized the entire plot giving away all of the awesome twists and surprises. That's just not right! And several people had marked that review as helpful?!? (Luckily, I read the review after reading the book.) I'd rather just know if they enjoyed the book or not.

  3. Honestly, I do read reviews, but generally see what the general consensus is on Goodreads. However, if I'm fond of a blogger and respect her opinion and she doesn't like a book that's been rated high, I probably won't read it because of second thoughts. I guess I would like generalities in a review. It can be hard to read a book after so many book bloggers have read it b/c sometimes the hype isn't worth it. The Goldfinch was like that for me but I'm glad Black Rabbit Hall was a good one.

  4. Yes! You said it well, Katherine. The Wanderer was more of a story of a town and the romance definitely wasn't too tidy.

  5. I struggle with this sometimes. I mean I never want to give a spoiler but what is a spoiler sometimes. So I use the rule if it isn't in the b;urn I try not to say it. I will give more about my feelings and such. I think I look for a lot of the same things as you - pacing, characters, cliff hangers or not, etc. I will say I still have not read Harry Potter and try to avoid spoilers still!

  6. Good discussion, spoilers are tough. I'm not as against spoilers as most are That's not to say I want to be spoiled! But sometimes when people howl on the Internet about "I was spoiled and my life is over" I'm like, well the Internet is what it is and sometimes it's hard not to be spoiled. And it's not exactly the end of the world. Anyway...

    I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews. Sometimes though I think I want to discuss a book in more detail, spoilers and all, but it's hard without having all these blacked out pieces of text, and of course the comments would be a problem, so... it doesn't really happen. This might be a discussion post of its own! I also think including spoilers would help me remember the book if I look back in a year or two. But I don't because I know it would ruin the book for most readers. It's a tough one.

    Half the time the blurb gives away a crucial plot point! But I get why people don't want to see spoilers, and I wouldn't want every book spoiled for me either. For some movies though I seek out spoilers -like with Star Wars. The whole plot was leaked months before it came out, and I was concerned about some story elements and actually looked for spoilers to confirm or deny. So I do that more with shows than books.

    I agree with your observations- I think all those things you cited are fair game for reviews.

  7. I agree with Greg, above. Watch out for those book blurbs on Goodreads-yikes! They really give away too much in their quest to draw us in.

    I don't mind telling, or hearing, that a book has a cliffhanger because some people won't want to read a book that doesn't give some closure, even in a series.

    I did have a problem reviewing Fool Me Once on GR. It's that kind of plot! Also depends on the author's style. Anyone who's ever read Jodi Picoult knows, she has a formula down-pat in which she does something near the end of every book. So making a comment about her twisty plot and surprises shouldn't spoil it if you stay vague enough. Then again, why mention it?

    I'm ambivalent about this, but I guess I personally don't want to know the specifics, but saying there is a surprise, plot twist, or expected HEA, etc. doesn't bother me. But I don't intentionally give any spoilers away on my blog, keeping other readers in mind.

  8. I could care less about spoilers, I have read many books knowing what is going to happen cause I may have watched the movie, etc. When I review though I do try and not give away spoilers, any plot twist or other things like red herrings. It does get harder when a book is part of a series so I might add this contains spoilers to the top so people know going in that they might learn something they might not want to learn. :)

    Great discussion! :)

  9. I actually don't mind spoilers at all, but I tend to look for strong characterization and good quality writing when I read. Plot twists are pretty far down my priority list, so I don't care if I'm spoiled.

  10. It can get hard, especially when you hit book three or four in a series. I try to let the synopsis guide me and not revealing anything beyond that. Of course I will say things like an unexpected twist took me by surprise or yikes a triangle emerged. Great discussion post.

  11. It can be hard, because people have suh different views on what constitutes as a spoiler. I mean, I've seen people go on a tirade because they considered the title of the 3rd book as a spoiler. But if they read the first book, then it was only obviously that that was what the series was leading up to. So I don't know, I try not to give any. It does bother me when people say there's a big twist or something like that in their reviews, because that's taking away the suspense for us.

  12. It sounds like you and I define spoilers the same way. I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews. For me, giving a synopsis of what the book is about is not necessarily a spoiler, but I know people who think it is. They avoid reading reviews of books they have yet to read altogether as a result.

    The argument about whether just mentioning there's a twist is a tricky one. I think it's a given with a mystery or thriller that there will be one, and so stating so isn't a big deal--to me, anyway. I do know that there have been a couple instances though in which someone simply saying, "I never saw that coming!" was enough of a spoiler to give away the twist for me, and I was a little disappointed as a result. So, it CAN bother me, but it usually doesn't.

  13. Spoilers are a tricky thing. Especially now a days where everyone considers everything a spoiler. And you're right, for the most part we know how the book is going to end. Maybe not the fine details but with all my romance reading I know they're going to get together. I'm not reading for that.
    I am one to dislike when someone tells me there's going to be a twist because now I'm expecting it and won't be shocked(if I was going to be) when it happens. I actually think that's worse than getting spoiled. Will getting spoiled ruin a book for me? More than likely not, if I was going to read I will still. Unless I'm fully against what happens(there are a few series enders I wish I knew the ending for before going in because than I wouldn't have read the book).
    As for older titles, whether classic or say Harry Potter, at this point they're fair game. If you haven't read them or seen the movies than you probably were never going to. So let's face it, you can't complain when you get spoiled. I saw someone the other day ranting over getting spoiled for a middle book in the Outlander series because the author had tweeted someone answers to questions. Well, sorry, sucks that you saw that but I can't feel with you that you got spoiled since that book is 20 years old. If you see someone mentioning Outlander, maybe don't read it. That's what I do when I see a book I haven't read it. Look away.

  14. I have some reviews that are extremely vague in order to avoid spoilers, like, the only thing I could say was that I loved the characters, the tense it was written in and from what perspective... Everything else would have been spoiler-y in some way, and so I just kind of happy-danced and said I loved it...
    It can be very hard though, especially when reviewing series. And someone once left a comment on one of my reviews on Goodreads, for the third book in a series saying I spoiled the first book for them... And I was kind of just scratching my head wondering why in the world they would read a review for the third book if they hadn't read the first yet - and at the same time, I also wondered if I had done something I shouldn't have. I did decide that since I didn't spoil anything that did happen in the third book, I was still OK, but it did made me think.
    I'm very peculiar when it comes to spoilers, I don't even always read the summary, because I love starting a book without knowing much about it in advance but this is also why I may not read any reviews until I have read the actual book myself.
    And I agree with Brittany above - if people don't want to know anything about what happens down the line in the Outlander series, maybe they should not read Gabaldon's tweets or Facebook posts... She sometimes posts daily lines from an upcoming book, and I avoid those like the plague, which is actually very simple to do :)
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

  15. For me, the hardest part of spoilers are for series. When you're reviewing books later in the series and there is something that is a spoiler for an earlier book. I know that not everyone who is reading my current review has read the previous books in the series. I try to write a paragraph or two about the book and then put a spoiler sentence about spoilers for previous books then write the rest of my review.

    I do agree that spoiler tags are needed for spoilers, but I'm like you, "what is a spoiler?". For me, if you're going to mention who the big killer is. I think you have to judge it book by book. I also agree with Kimberly, I let the book summary guide me a bit too. I do agree that HEA for romance or the fact that the killer is caught in a mystery isn't a spoiler at all, it's expected. If for some reason these things don't happen, people would want to know, because that is a turn off for many people. Great topic.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

  16. We have a very similar sense of what is and isn't a spoiler, I think. I've never read one of your reviews and been disappointed because you gave something away that I wish you'd kept secret. Like you, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that there were twists or unexpected turns as long as you don't say what they were. Similarly, it's not a spoiler to acknowledge that a romance has an HEA ending, or that the crime is solved in a mystery -- in both cases, that's expected, and the book is more about "how" than "whether" the expected ending will come about. I include blurbs in my reviews, and I try not to give away anything that's not obvious in the blurb. Very occasionally I've wanted to talk about something that really bothered me, and if I can't do it generically enough, I'll include a spoiler with warnings and a spoiler break.

    Someone mentioned books in series, and that's a tricky question. Basically, the fact that a second or third or twentieth book even exists tells you something, if only that the main character(s) have survived so far. (Except in romance, where series means something different.) I understand people getting upset when a review gives away things that happened in previous books, but my general feeling is, if I don't want to know, I shouldn't read the reviews of book 3 until I've finished book 2. I know some reviewer start the review of later books with the warning that there are spoilers for the previous books, but I don't feel that's necessary; it's just common sense to know that there probably will be.

    When I'm reading reviews, I don't worry over-much about seeing spoilers, because I tend to feel more comfortable if I know what to expect. That's actually part of the appeal of romance and mystery for me; I know generally where things are headed. I can take some surprises along the way as long as I know things will turn out OK. But I don't usually want to know the specific twists and turns and plot developments that happen along the way.

    Classics are another thorny question. Yes, of course, many adults know the basic premise or plotline of a lot of classics they haven't actually read. And there's so much stuff out there about them already that it's really hard to imagine anyone but a child or teen going into a classic completely unspoiled and unaware. But where and when do you draw that line? At what point is, say, Christie's "And Then There Were None" enough of a classic to actually discuss what she did in that book without labeling your post with all kinds of spoiler alerts? I don't have an answer to that question. Similarly, I can't imagine most people going into the Harry Potter series, or Star Wars, at this point without a pretty good idea of what happens. So does mentioning the death of a specific character, or their parentage, really count as a spoiler anymore? I just don't know.

    Wonderful and thought-provoking post, Katherine. Thank you!

  17. I was happy to find your discussion b/c even after four years of reviewing I still struggle with this. Mostly, this is an issue b/c I can't predict what other people see as a spoiler. I actually have similar rules that you have established (I cut off my summary before the half-way point, I stay vague about twists, I use the blurb as a guide to what I can reveal- though that sometimes gives away big plot twists, I pay attention to what jumped out as a surprise for me so I can stay mum and let others find that as well). Like you, I include if the book ends abruptly. I work hard to consider what people might want to know going into the book. But that said, I still manage to tick a few off here and there. In a 900 page Outlander book that had been released for over a year, I had someone mad b/c of my summary that actually stopped around the 25% mark. In another book that was a companion novel (flip side to the same story) to a book that had been out a couple of years, I had someone mad b/c they thought I said too much when I listed an event (not the result of the event) that occurred back in that earlier book.

    Just reading your thoughts and the others here, I think I've got pretty good rules for myself and will just have to be resigned to the fact that I can't please everyone and there are some aspect to 'spoilering' that are subjective. :)

  18. If I were to review the Harry Potter books I don't think I would have to drop any hue of a spoiler, but of course all the remaining books would have my usual warning of "don't read this review if you haven't read the previous books". I always put that disclaimer on sequels, even though I really don't have obvious spoilers because you never know what a reader will think is a spoiler. Just the fact that you mention a certain character, and they know they are still alive in book two or four, may be condidered a spoiler to some. What gets me is when people on Twitter get mad if someone posts a meme about someone's death or talks about a "ship" they liked, disliked, in HP. When it is an older book that is/was wildly popular like HP, The Wizard Of Oz, Jane Eyre, Great Exoections, The Hunger Games, or Hamlet; and has probably had a bazillion movies and/or mini-series made of it I think people are being silly thinking Twitter or Facebook memes and dicussions are spoilers. I think most bloggers are watchful of spoilers for newer books, and to marking spoilers. That is why I will read reviews on blogs, but steer clear of reviews on Goodreads from bloggers I don't know, and doubly for Amazon! Good grief! Most of them tell the entire plot! I don't consider telling something that happens in the first couple of chapters a spoiler, nor saying there is a twist (because in actuality it makes me more excited to read the book), or a cliffhanger. There is this one blogger, whom I don't follow anymore because they always called their reviews spoiler free, who thought all that meant was not using the characters' names. If you had read the previous books, or knew anything about the book you could tell who died, got married, broke up, etc, from her reviews. It was infuriating. This is a great post!

  19. I do try very hard not to give away the important parts of books. I'd agree about the one-third rule. I tend to talk generally about whether or not the characters worked for me, the type of writing, if the ending worked for me but not why or why not. It is a tightrope, these reviews. In general, I tend to make note of books I want to read after reading reviews then not getting around to the books until I really can't, to be honest, remember anything about the individual review, just that it made me want to read the book.