When did spoiling the story become such a big deal for writers? A dependence on plot twists and shock value may reflect problems with a story as a whole.

Plot twists can bring suspense to a story, but a good writer won't depend on them to keep it going.
Plot twists can bring suspense to a story, but an excellent writer won’t depend on them to keep it going.
Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

In 1976, George Lucas did something that would have been unthinkable today.

In an interview with Donald Goddard from the New York Times, he explained the entire plot of the first Star Wars movie.

That’s right: George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, willingly released spoilers for his own movie.

Fast-forward over three decades later to 2019, when Disney owns Star Wars and fans await the release of the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker.

This time around, Disney safeguards potential spoilers for the story like they’re codes to a safe. Reviews and promotions for the movie skirt around the story, all for fear of spoiling it.

Meanwhile, actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – another Disney property – admit that they know nothing about the movies they just helped to make.

What exactly happened in three decades?

When did releasing spoilers become almost a cardinal offense in the world of popular fiction?

Social media is part of it; it’s understandable that the writer might be paranoid about spoilers when anyone can give away their entire story on Twitter.

However, this new fear of spoilers reflects a larger problem in modern popular fiction.

Too many modern writers rely on shock value and jarring plot twists, instead of trying to tell an actually good story.

If you do your job as a writer, your audience will be entertained

This seems obvious, doesn’t it?

Shockingly, this doesn’t often work. After Infinity War and Endgame, both directed by the Russo brothers, many viewers thought the story was confusing and unsatisfying.

For a certain type of writer, this is the intended effect: if the story is upsetting, that means it’s gritty and deep. And if absolutely nobody saw the plot twist coming, that means the story was just too smart for its audience.

There’s nothing wrong with plot twists. But if spoilers completely ruin the story for its readers, then the writer wasn’t doing their job.

If a keen-eyed audience member sees one of the plot twists coming, that’s not a bad thing.

It’s a sign of good foreshadowing and plotting that makes sense.

That’s the kind of story that lasts past the initial hype of their release; the kind that fans can watch again and again, anticipating the inevitable plot twists.

Take, for example, a story much older than Star Wars

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has one of the most outlandish plot twists in history – and the story is so famous that everyone knows it.

The plot twist for Jekyll and Hyde have been common knowledge for decades – and yet, the story is still in print. Adaptations for film and TV were still being made as recently as 2007, more than a century after the original story was published.

The people who watched Jekyll, or read the story, weren’t worried about having the plot twists spoiled.

They knew what would probably happen.

It’s not the surprise that makes plot twists valuable

It’s looking back and seeing the story leading up, inexplicably and yet inevitably, to the conclusion.

Spoilers might take away the thrill of being blindsided by the story’s plot twists, but there’s an entirely different kind of terror that comes from reading the story and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In an age where the internet constantly surrounds us, it’s understandable that a writer would want to keep their story secret. But why does it matter so much?

A good story in the hands of a good writer is impervious to spoilers. While the audience might miss the shock of unexpected plot twists, there’s another kind of thrill that comes from watching a story build up to that inevitable swerve.

If a few spoilers are really going to ruin the story, maybe it wasn’t worth the hype.