Writing: Science Says Stories Aren’t Ruined By Spoilers

Spoiler Alert!

Don’t you hate when someone spoils the ending of a good book or movie before you’ve had a chance to read or see it? You’ll be standing around the water cooler when suddenly your colleauge decides to ruin the ending of some random story you’ve yet to experience (“ZOMG I can’t believe what happened at the end! He was dead the entire time! The butler did it! It was his sled!“) and so you scurry off, fingers in your ears while screaming “la-la-la-la” at the top of your lungs. It’s just the worst, right?

Well, maybe not. In fact, a scientific study at the University of California in San Diego claims that spoilers don’t spoil stories—they actually enhance one’s enjoyment of them.

Even ironic-twist and mystery stories—which you’d be forgiven for assuming absolutely depend on suspense or surprise for success—aren’t spoiled by spoilers, according to a study by [UC San Diego social psychology professor] Nicholas Christenfeld and [UC San Diego psychology doctoral student] Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego’s psychology department, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story—classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver—was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.

Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.

The study found similar findings for mysteries, saying that readers indicated improved enjoyment of stories even though they already knew whodunit.

Unsurprisingly, straightforward literary pieces were the least-liked, but the study still found readers preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.

What could be the reason for this? “Plots are just excuses for great writing,” says Christenfeld. “What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing.”

They reason this is why favorite books can be read again and again and beloved movies rewatched endlessly.

We know how this one ends ...

So maybe Harry Burns, Billy Crystal‘s character in When Harry Met Sally, had it right after all. The next time you read a book, flip to the last page to see how it ends … before you even begin.

[Science Daily]


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