The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Wired points to a new study looking out how much people enjoy books when the ending twists are spoiled and when they're not spoiled and discovers that: "Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything." Actually, that's not exactly what the study found. The study found that when comparing people's enjoyment of a story with or without a spoiler, on average, people tended to enjoy the spoiled stories more, in some cases significantly more. In a minority of cases, the subjects preferred the story unspoiled. In short, spoilers usually don't really spoil most types of stories, though they do spoil some.

To me this isn't really all that surprising, and I've discussed before the utility of "revealing surprises much earlier to create anticipation." The prototypical example is Romeo & Juliet, where the surprising twist ending is actually revealed in the Prologue. The anticipation of the tragic ending puts a pall over the whole play, giving it a certain ambiance, and as the tragic end approaches, the viewers begin feeling the sadness for the sad ending.

Nonetheless, there are times when a twist ending is best and a writer should try to withhold information. The question is when is a twist ending desirable and when not. Though I can't say I know the answer to this question, I have some thoughts.
1) It's probably worth it to hold out for a twist ending only if it's a really good twist, something really surprising. If the information isn't that earth-shattering, reveal it as soon as it's convenient.
2) If the audience can too easily guess the twist, it's not worth withholding.
3) A good twist should bring insight, not confusion. If things that didn't make sense, suddenly make sense after knowing the twist, then that's good. If things that previously made sense, suddenly don't make sense after knowing the twist, that's bad.

I'm sure there some other good rules of thumb, and there are exceptions to these rule. But they are a good starting point for thinking about when it's worth it to employ a twist ending. Though, most of the time it's probably best to reveal information when it's convenient throughout the course of the story.

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