“Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the galaxy and it is in order that this situation should not be in any way exacerbated that the following facts will now be revealed in advanced: The planet in question, is, in fact, Magrathea. The deadly nuclear missile attack shortly to be launched by an ancient automatic defence system will merely result in the bruising of somebody’s upper arm, and the untimely creation and sudden demise of a bowl of petunias and an innocent sperm whale. In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved no revelation will yet be made concerning whose upper arm has been bruised. This fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since it is of no significance whatsoever. “
and soon afterwards:
“It is, of course, more or less at this point that one of our heroes sustains a slight bruise to the upper arm. This should be emphasised because, as has already been revealed, they escape otherwise completely unharmed, and the deadly nuclear missiles do not eventually hit the ship. Our heroes’ safety is absolutely assured.”
Those quoted passages are courtesy of the legendary radio play, “HItchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. When I first heard these satirical quips about preventing stress by results ahead of time, I was vastly amused. Years later, I realize Adams is, essentially, reporting the stark truth.
And it baffles me.
A major point of etiquette across the internet maintains that the most unforgivable breach of etiquette imaginable is for reviewers or discussions to reveal Spoilers. That is such a lie. It is my observation that the teeming masses crave having the plot laid out for them ahead of time. They go into convulsions if they don’t know whodunnit ahead of time.
Evidence Exhibit #1: Movie trailers routinely lay out the basic outline of the plot. Not all, by any means, but too many reveal too much. If it is a movie I’m definitely going to watch, I’ve taken to closing my eyes to avoid having the story ruined. (I used to plug my ears with my fingers, but modern cinema audio volumes cannot be stopped with mere fingers). And yet, official and anecdotal polls show most people insist on having the trailer preview the story for them.
Baffling and insane.
Evidence Exhibit #2: Television once did this all the time. “Scenes from tonight’s episode”, followed by a rapid montage of the show I was sitting down to watch. Again, like with movie trailers, I learned to close my eyes or not bother to watch the episode. They don’t do that any more. I suspect the practice stopped only because they realized those few seconds spent on teaser scenes could be better employed with dancing rabbits selling toilet paper.
Evidence Exhibit #3: The absurd practice of Time Jumbling. The writing practice of putting events out of sequence. To start the plot with events and commotion until the first pause in the narrative when we're told “13 hours earlier”, “Ten years ago…” or some time measurement. The consumer is then pulled to this previous period. It’s not a brief flashback of memory. The main story now commences.
Television has an especially egregious track record in this. We sit down to watch our favourite show only to be bombarded with our hero dodging flame thrower blasts while trying to defuse a bomb. And then…”earlier the same week…” We have to watch the hero go blithely about his/her affairs, all the while knowing the sunshine and lollipops of their day will go into flaming ruin.
In TV’s case, I understand it is their fumble-witted attempt to hook the viewer to stay tuned thru the first of many repetitions of the dancing rabbits and toilet paper. I’d have to see some convincing statistics to prove this annoying practice works, but I’ll give them a grudging pass for now. I do imagine keeping the ADHD eyeballs of the world on this particular show is a nerve-racking task.
Books. I cannot forgive authors who do this. I cannot understand readers who lavish praise on the books written in Time Jumble. Occasionally it is done in the television style, with a quick chapter of action to (hopefully) get the reader hooked and the proceed with the “dull stuff”. Too often in my life I’ve read Time Jumbles that are substantial and not an action appetizer. It is rather jarring to suddenly be thrust back into the protagonist’s past and stay there. And it sucks the juice out of the entire book. It becomes limp and nearly lifeless. Any attempt at suspense as we wander thru their past is gone. Will he die in this teenage car crash?? No. We were introduced to him as a middle-aged man. Will he ever win the heart of his lifelong love?? Yes. He and what I now realize is the woman in question were together in the future segment. Will be indicted and imprisoned?? Maybe for awhile, but he wasn’t in jail, nor seemed a fugitive, in the future segment.
So, I maintain that readers don’t give a squeaky fart about the plot being spoiled. They are only interested in how the writer painted a word portrait of characters or described the war-torn wasteland. I can only assume the sequence of events leading up to these descriptions are a bottom priority in their literary enjoyment.
Me, I want those dazzling word descriptions and clever characterizations, but I want a strong plot to carry it all along. Telling me straight away that nobody gets hurt except for a bruise on their arm is just stupid.
I await some kind of explanation.