Have you ever experienced that, after writing a review, somebody shouted spoiler alert?
I have, and that made me think. Yes, in that review, I mentioned things that emerge within the story but, in my opinion, it wasn’t the plot that moved the book forward. It was the characters and their inner lives.
Honestly, I’ve never understood why it should be necessary to keep the plot of a psychological novel a secret. It made me ask myself if we only read to be surprised.
In that case, I’d give up many books – because the plot is too obvious. I’ve seldom been surprised but, since my childhood, my reason for reading was never to find out about the storyline. If anything, my reason for reading is to see how the author uses the plot to develop characters or vice versa. Perhaps my main reason for reading is to enjoy the language – if the author is worth his or her mettle.
Merely reading for a plot would mean that nobody could enjoy a fairy tale. This has something to do with the idea that there are only a certain set of plots to choose from. To me, it is obvious that certain plots get plenty of repeat performances. Those are: boy meets girl (romance), crime capers, fantasy, vampire stories, and even horror ditto. The Westerns also have their set course, and that goes for any genre fiction.
Does that stop us from reading? No. What keeps us reading is those little and significant differences in the way an author, any author, presents the story. It’s colours and flavours if you like. What interests a reader cannot be the plot. Perhaps the only themes that avoid that are fantasy and Sci-Fi. If the narrative includes world building it isn’t unlikely that this stands in the foreground. All the same, it is the relationships between the characters, their way to cope – or not – that captivate a reader. Isn’t it?
Why do we read? In my opinion, it is to find out what it is to be a human being. We are that close to Narcissus. We like to hold a mirror up and see that we all are alike deep down. We may shudder to think that we could commit murder. We may get carried away into a blossoming romance. We may root for the hero – or for the charming villain.
The seven basic plots are ‘overcoming the monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage (and return), rebirth, comedy, and tragedy. In those categories, there are already similarities though. Overcoming a monster – even if it is innate in the protagonist – is similar to a quest. So is a voyage and a rebirth. All of the above can be written or told as comedy or tragedy. Rags to riches is another form of a journey and so would the opposite (riches to rags) be.
Apparently, a British economist, Francis Isidro Edgeworth was the first to use the so-called hedonometer, a method to measure happiness in writing. Later, Kurt Vonnegut used this idea to measure the fluctuations between good and evil in simple tales.
At the bottom line, it is important to remember that even if there are only seven stories, or three, or six, or whatever researchers suggest next – it doesn’t mean you don’t have a worthwhile story to tell. From a framework perspective, it may all have been done before – but only the most cynical could use that as a reason not to write. So, could only the most cynical use this as a reason not to read.
What comes to the front of this analysing lark is that we aren’t so taken with the plot as we are with exploring our humanity. So, where does a review come into the scheme of things? If all stories follow a narrow pattern, the review must be about delving into what inspired the reviewer to think. If anything did. Maybe my thought here is that a spoiler can’t spoil an excellent book – one that has more to offer than merely a plot. A book that lets the reader delve into what it might be that makes humans tick offers far more.
Hence, I dare to suggest that there’s no point in reading books that get spoiled through a ‘spoiler’.
© HMH, 2020