A lot of people, myself included, hate being spoiled for books. Personally, I like being able to explore a book for the first time without any idea of what the final outcome will be. I like getting to know the characters without the knowledge of someone’s death looming over me the whole time. The fact is that spoilers can make reading a book a lot less exciting. But there are two things people don’t seem to be able to agree on: what exactly qualifies as a spoiler and do they actually matter?
I’m not even sure I can answer the first question myself. I tend to view spoilers as anything that gives away some piece(s) of somewhat important information that is relevant to the characters, plot, etc. I don’t want to know if two characters end up together. I don’t want to know what that huge twist at the end is. I don’t want to know that X character dies. I want all of that to be surprising to me. I want to be able to read the book and wonder about what will happen.
But there are a lot of people that view smaller details (the MC goes on a date and sees a movie – even if you don’t know with whom) or really broad statements (the MC ends up dating someone at the end) as spoilers as well. I admit I sometimes feel this way as well. For example, some people feel that even mentioning that there’s a big plot twist towards the end of the book can be a spoiler. I never used to consider that as one, but ever since I saw someone mention it, I can’t help but notice how I’ll spend the whole time reading waiting for that plot twist and wondering what it might be. So yeah, I think that it could qualify.
The second question – do spoilers matter? – is an even harder one to tackle. As I already mentioned, I don’t like spoilers. So obviously my personal answer would be that yes, spoilers matter. Like I said before, they take away a certain element of surprise or may not allow you to guess about what might happen. But there are a lot of people who don’t care if they see spoilers or who even actively seek them out. I remember reading a post from one person who felt that if your book relies on surprise to be a good and entertaining book, then it’s lacking other essential elements of a good story. That’s kind of confusing, but basically, she was saying that if without surprise, you can’t enjoy the book, then it’s probably not a very good book to begin with. I can’t help but agree with that to some extent (although I feel the need to specify it does not change my opinion on spoilers).
I think what it all comes down to is the individual person’s opinion. However, this creates an entirely new problem for reviewers. How much can we disclose while still being able to say the review is “spoiler-free”? What kind of information should I mark as a spoiler? What constitutes a spoiler to me may not seem like a spoiler according to other people and similarly, what I don’t personally view as a spoiler may seem like a major spoiler to someone else. It’s a difficult situation for reviewers who don’t want to give things away in their review, but still need to, you know, review the book.