If there’s anything anyone should know about me, it’s that I hate spoilers. Over the years this hatred has increased to the point where I rarely read the blurbs of books or the descriptions of movies because I want everything to be a surprise. I don’t want to know what happens at the end of a story before I read it because that takes the fun and anticipation out of it. After all, what’s enjoyable about watching the inevitable unfold? If I know what is going to happen, why would I even bother with the story? I’ve already been robbed of the experience of guessing and waiting to see what happens, so I have nothing to gain from reading it…or so I thought.
Eventually, I did some critical thinking on this issue and realized that although, yes, knowing the end or critical parts of a story does take from the enjoyment of watching it, it can also build the emotional response in readers tenfold. I was wrong; it is fun to watch the inevitable unfold. In the right hands, the use of a story’s ending as a plot device can keep the reader on the edge of their seat waiting in despair (or hope) to see the end. For example, we love watching movies where a prophecy speaks of the arrival of a great hero and we love visions in stories that tell of an apocalyptic event that will destroy the world. It builds anticipation in the audience members, as we wait for the story to tell us how it got to that point. How did the good guy suddenly become a villain? How did the Earth get taken over by aliens? How did the main characters of the story die? It is actually quite exciting to watch.
Above that, and probably most importantly, it can keep your audience invested. Maybe the main hook of your story is the evil overlord who takes over the city at the end. This plot line could arguably be more interesting than just watching the heroes fighting the villains, because people like to watch characters fight against the inevitable. I’m not exempt from this. People like books that make them cry or movies where everyone dies at the end, and usually books that tease or tell their endings can achieve this.
The best example of this in a novel format (that I’ve seen) is Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at The End. The spoiler is right there in the title, and there’s no mistaking it. No matter what happens, they (as in the main characters) will both die in the end. To go into as much of a spoiler free review as I can with a book that spoils itself, we know what happens at the end of the story: the protagonists will die. It takes us through the last day of these characters' lives, reminding us every chance it gets that they are going to die. No matter how much they fight, how confident they are or what decisions they make, they will still die, and you know this. You know that every single move they take is futile, and that hurts more than sudden death could ever hope to be. You can’t warn them, you can’t stop the inevitable, and you can only hope that it works out for them somehow. But in the end, it doesn’t work. They die, and you are left hopeless.
Perhaps it was the youth of these characters, the strong writing and character building, the inevitably and injustice of it all, time ticking faster and faster with each page, or the romance sparked between Matteo and Rufus in face of all of this, but reading this melancholy tale broke me. No matter how hard I wished, or thought that there was some way to avoid their plight, nothing could be done. Matteo dies shortly before Rufus meets his end, on the last page of the book. His death isn’t explicitly stated, but there’s enough subtext for the reader to know he didn’t make it.
This book gave me probably the biggest existential crisis I’ve ever had, and while that’s not a guarantee for everyone, most people who have read it have had a similar experience of helplessness and sorrow. At the end of it, we’re only left with ‘what if’s and not much else. But there’s something about it that makes it so impactful, that has kept it on the tip of our tongues years after its release. After going back to analyze what about the book could’ve made me feel so awful, it didn’t take long for me to realize it was knowing that hurt.
If this book was framed differently, maybe without DeathCast being a part of it and the death of the main characters being kept a mystery from the reader, I doubt it would’ve had the same impact as it has now. In fact, it would be a completely different story. One that would still be great, but perhaps one that a reader enjoys and then moves on, instead of resonating with. This is because, despite the title, readers still hope that they won’t actually die at the end. That hope, combined with a few of their near death experiences and the growth of their relationship, lets readers think that this couldn’t be the end. There has got to be more to it than this. And then they die anyway. It's heartbreaking, it’s hopeless, and it’s tragic, but it sticks with readers forever and it gets them talking. That is how you use an unstoppable tragedy to bring your work to new heights.
So there you have it! An unavoidable tragedy that we watch unfold is much worse than a normal tragedy (at least in my opinion). One could argue that all tragedies are unstoppable, but there is a clear difference between watching the hero get betrayed and knowing who will betray the hero. You watch the hero talk with this person, share secrets, and make themselves vulnerable, all while knowing that everything will be used against them. The mix of emotions this brings up is prolonged throughout the whole story, and explodes at the big reveal. Not knowing this, doesn’t have that effect. Of course, there’s more to it than simply telling the reader the ending of your story. You have to be crafty, thoughtful and delicate in the process. Don’t forget the other elements of your story as you prepare to break your reader’s heart.
Now at the end of this whole lecture, do I still hate spoilers? Yes, but I can see how their use can turn a good story into a brilliant one. So why not try this out in your story? Make your audience grieve a bit more. Add a sprinkle of tragedy to your manuscript, especially after everything you’ve learned. Turn what could be a spoiler, into a plot device that will elevate your story to new heights. Trust me, it’ll be fun!
is a Canadian-Jamaican student, slowly making her way through the writing world. She aims to not only write, but be impactful and play her part in making the world a less judgemental and more accepting place for people everywhere.