Friday, August 19, 2011

140 characters to 100,000 words: spoilers, investment and brainache.

Well, my most miserable, least generous, snarkiest tweet ever came back, jumped up and bit me on the bum today when Jeffrey Callison of Insight called me on it.  Well, not really - he'd never - but he did ask me to explain why I tweeted:

       Oh no, not again!  I never thought anything could make me unfollow the Ed book fest.  Or am I just a miseryguts?

The issue was the 140 character stories appearing under the hashtag #UnboundEd.  But the problem wasn't unknown and possibly even unpublished - oh, my dear!- writers daring to ask for attention.  Nothing like it.  It was just my bumbling, fuzzy, permanently-set-at-novel-length, brain trying to keep up.

I'd read a tweet and try to attach some bit of it to the news, an earlier message, someone I knew, something already in existence . . . and then get to the end, see #UnboundEd and think "Oh, right, okay, it's self-contained."  Then read the next one.  And the next one.  And after fifteen my brain was melting and dripping out of my ears.

Which is exactly why I can't read short stories.  I can't get my investment level down from where it would be at Chapter 1 of a novel.  And then fifteen pages later it's all over and I'm whirling in the dust, like a cowboy who's thrown a punch at an disapparating alien.

This is my problem with the recent survey from UC San Diego on spoilers, or at least with the reporting of it. (Thanks to fellow crimewriter Laurence O'Bryan for the link.)  The study was done on 12 short stories.  The finding was that, by and large, spoilers didn't spoil them.  This is why is was reported, right?  A finding that spoilers spoil things wouldn't be news (but let's leave the dangers of positive results bias in published science for another day).

So far, so interesting.  Surprising even . . . if you could see me you'd be able to tell that I have my but-face on now (one T) . . . but the report from UCSD News Center concludes that perhaps people who flip to the last page of a book have got it right.

Guys!  Gu-uys?  Short stories aren't books.  Novels are books.  A study on spoilers in short stories says nothing about books or about novels.  Or films (by the time the results were on the radio, it was films too).

Stephen King knows this better than anyone.  He first envisaged Misery as a short story, but then noticed when he was finished it that it was 300 pages long - I'm making up the details, obviously; I have no insight into the actual methods of prolific geniuses - and so he had to change the ending.


as they say.  In a short story, crazy Annie Wilkes could kill Paul Sheldon, feed him to Misery the pig and bind the Wilkes Edition of Misery's Return in Paul's skin.  In a novel, the man had to live and the pig had to go.  As King says "no one likes to root for a guy over the course of three hundred pages only to discover that between chapters sixteen and seventeen the pig ate him." On Writing p.132.

Short stories aren't just really short novels.  Novels aren't just really long short stories.  Nobody has published any results on spoilers and the novel (or film). 

As an aside, have you ever noticed that people who read short stories are often proud of it and people who don't are often ashamed of it?  What's that about?

Back on the main track, though, I am very glad that readers, critics and reviewers take plot spoilers seriously.  My new book is out this week:

and there's a twist at the end that could be completely ruined - spoiled, in fact - by the mention of just one specific word.  (There's proof of my belief in the basic goodness of humanity, eh?  Talk about tempting fate.)

Thank you, early readers, and to any new readers about to embark on Dandy Gilver's below-stairs adventure, I say this: if you are one who flips to the end before you read the beginning, don't blame me.

No comments:

Post a Comment