BRIDGET WHELAN writer

Muse, News and Views

Does knowing what happens in the end spoil a story?

Are you a reader or are you a re-reader?I’ve been looking back at old posts and I thought I’d share one I wrote two years ago (on a previous blog) after reading an interesting article in The Guardian. Research from the University of San Diego’s psychology department seemed to suggest  that spoilers don’t spoil a story…

Subjects were given a dozen short stories by a range of famous authors. Some were in their original form while others included a paragraph that gave away the ending or a crucial twist. The result?

“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…”

Not such a big surprise really because it seems to me that the experiment is examining the joys of re-reading. Reading when you are no longer driven by suspense means you can relax and enjoy the language, the way the characters develop, the light and shade, the journey you are taking with the author…
I can remember the first book I ever re-read. I got Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass the Christmas I was eight. When I finished I just turned it over and went back to the beginning. I was still reading it when we went on our summer holidays…

Do you re-read books?
Or do you need that what-happens-next feeling?

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren via photopin cc

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6 comments on “Does knowing what happens in the end spoil a story?

  1. I did the same with the first Harry Potter – finished it then started it again immediately. Rereading gives a different perspective & new pleasure, but a first reading is special too. Would always like chance of unspoiled first reading personally.

    • bridget whelan
      August 6, 2013

      Hmmm you’re right. Revealing everything right up front is one way of telling a story (I can’t get the great Columbo out of my head) but it would be a dull world if linear stories went out of fashion. There’s great pleasure in re-reading but there’s magic in that hungry first reading.

  2. creativityorcrazy
    August 6, 2013

    Interesting question I’ve never thought much about, but immediately know the answer. I enjoy rereading classics on rare occasion, but other than non-fiction books, I do not like to reread books. I need that part of getting to know the characters and that “what-happens-next feeling”. Once I know what to expect, there’s no pleasure from the unexpected. My mother is the opposite. She’s read the Twilight books so many times that I finally told her, “There are other friends to be made.”

  3. bridget whelan
    August 6, 2013

    This made me chuckle because my mother was just like you while I am following in your mother’s footsteps (love your comment to her). But you must be in the minority, don’t you think? Otherwise why would people collect books and build their own personal library if not to re-read?

  4. Laura Marcus
    August 6, 2013

    I reread Ian McEwan. Saturday I read several times because I loved it so much. A good suspenseful (is that a word?) story can work again and again and McEwan is great for plot as well as being a lovely writer. Like a good Sorkin script, you always find more with additional readings. I’ve also reread Chris Mullin’s Parliamentary diaires because they’re so wickedly gossipy and full of suspense even when you know what’s going to happen.

    I rewatch films I’ve liked and TV shows – the success of boxsets I would suggest proves we don’t mind spoilers?

  5. bridget whelan
    August 6, 2013

    Now my mother would never have understood that. I took her and my father to see a stage version of Streetcar Named Desire once (having checked that she had never seen the film) and she was most disappointed when she realised that we already knew the story. ‘What a dull night for you.’
    I re-read everything I like. the books I don’t go to charity shops…which reminds me I haven’t re-read Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow for about a year…thoroughly recommend it. I know what happens in the end but I’ve forgotten how they get there…

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