Dealbreakers and Spoilers

Note: This piece contains spoilers for Marrying Daisy Bellamy by Susan Wiggs. Be warned!

notromantic As a reviewer, avoiding spoilers in my assessment of a novel is important. Generally, the rule is that anything that is revealed on the back cover summary or within the first 100 pages of a novel is okay to share; anything past that, would be spoiling the novel. Of course, sometimes it’s the information that occurs after the first 100 pages that make or break a novel. I’ve gotten pretty good at making my allusions to such events vague enough that my criticism (or praise) is clear, but the plot development is not.

But what about when a particular plot development would be a deal breaker for some readers? I see this sometimes on the message boards — readers asking for spoilers about a particular point, to see if they would be okay with reading a book. I hadn’t necessarily experienced that need before; I’d always either trudged through a book because I was reviewing it, or put aside a book that had some element that really bothered me. It was fairly simple. That is, until I read Marrying Daisy Bellamy.

As a reader of Susan Wiggs’ Lakeshore Chronicle series, Daisy and Julian’s story has always stood out to me, and like other readers, I eagerly awaited their novel and snatched it up as soon as I could. Early on in the book, it seems like a HEA is at hand: Julian proposes (in the first 100 pages). And then (and this is the big, massive spoiler)… he dies.

Not actually, of course. They just all believe him to be dead, while in reality he’s being held prisoner and being tortured by drug lords. But Daisy, and the reader, grieve for him. They bury an empty casket, mourn a future that will never happen, shed countless tears. (Yes, I cried. Copiously. My head ached and I felt vaguely ill afterward.)

I had no idea this would happen. Maybe I should have read more closely in between the lines of the vague back cover copy, but I didn’t. And so, while I had eagerly looked forward to a book where Daisy and Julian are finally together for more than a month or two at a time, as they’ve been separated throughout their complicated history, we once again find ourselves spending the vast majority of the book — their book — focusing on Daisy’s relationship with someone else.

I sincerely wish I had known that this was going to happen. In my mind, any review of this book would be totally remiss in not mentioning the specifics of this plot. This is a situation where I’m uncertain that vague language can compensate for something as significant as the heroine grieving for the deceased hero. (Even if the reader knows the truth, Daisy doesn’t — and that fresh, open wound of the death of the love of her life is draining.) And honestly, I’m not sure if I would have picked the book up if I had known this is what was going to happen. As it was, I skipped much of the middle part of the book.

The story of one half of a couple being presumed dead, but coming back to life, is not my idea of a romantic story. Movies like Pearl Harbor and Cast Away have this aspect, and all it does is depress me. It’s one of the few things I truly can’t abide in a romance, and yet it’s rarely part of the basic plot summary — at least not explicitly. This is the sort of spoiler I want to — need to — know before picking up a book. It’s a deal breaker for me.

It’s doubly unfortunate that Ms. Wiggs went this direction for Julian and Daisy’s story, because otherwise the book is very good. It’s well written, heart-felt, and deals well with relationships of all sorts. But it could have been all these things, without “killing” Julian. But that is why they call it a deal breaker. Everything else might be fine, but the choice to make Julian dead for most of the book ruined it for me.

Do you think major plot lines should be revealed sometimes, even if they might be “spoilers”? What sort of things would be “deal breakers” for you that don’t always find their way into the review?

– Jane Granville

26 thoughts on “Dealbreakers and Spoilers

  1. For me a book isn’t ruined with spoilers, it’s ruined on the getting from the first to the last page. There are only so may plots to choose from, so many ways of getting from a to b, that if you read as much as I do, you’ve been there, read that.

    So, a book is ruined with TSTL characters, unbelievable plot lines (Cindy Dees latest), using pages of “from the serial killers POV” (Karen Rose)in an attempt to add suspence and killing off of main characters (Dana Stabenow) just to make the reader sympathetic. I’m not sympathetic… these are simply poor writing and shortcuts which IMO don’t make me go out and read other books by that author.

  2. I don’t like spoilers, period. Unfortunately, on the thread discussing this particular book, it was revealed that all the time was spent with the wrong couple. Now that was the first spoiler and was spouted out there with no warnings and really told it all in one breath. We have the white-out effect available here, as well as typing a warning that “spoilers” are ahead. Also, if someone absolutely has to have intricate details that may give everything away, then we always have the option of the PM (personal message). Leigh did that with us on another book and I took advantage of it.

    It’s easier to do the above things and satisfy most everyone, than to broadcast to everyone those details to readers who may not want them. Some of us would like to discover certain things on our own. If you truly want them, there are ways to get spoilers. But you can’t take them back once they’re printed and seen. How complicated can it be? Of course, we who don’t enjoy them don’t have to read the discussions—I understand that. But then we may be missing out on some other great tidbits about the book.

    For those who enjoy reading the back page first and who love spoilers, it’s probably difficult understanding the other side of it. I don’t have a problem understanding those who enjoy everything revealed even before they open a book (well, only a little—LOL), but why can’t they understand our enjoyment in the totally opposite direction?

  3. I’m one of those readers who has specific hot-buttons, so I do actively seek spoilers to make sure that any book I pick up for entertainment doesn’t contain any of my no-nos.

    Having the ‘main’ couple be appart for any reason for most of the novel is not for me. Nor is a tstl h/heroine and a couple of pages of redemtion at the end. Some bad boys are not reformable in my book, and too much of the killer’s pov kills the book for me. If I wanted to read serial-killer porn, there are books out there that do nothing but that.

    I want a relationship book when I pick up a romance. If the main characters are keept appart or unable to communicate for most of the book, how am I to believe in their relationship?

  4. I’ll just say it…I’m a big baby and really need a spoiler now and then. For instance, the spoiler mentioned in the post about the Wiggs book would be very appreciated if I were thinking of reading this book. As it is, now, I’m not, but if I were a fan of the author or the series, I would probably try it, but know that this is coming. As for hot buttons, I don’t have as many as I used to have. I really hate misunderstandings that last the entire book and I don’t like the couple to be apart because of the Big Mis. I also cannont tolerate a cruel hero or a hero that can’t get past certain situations.
    Spoilers on message boards don’t bother me either, and If I don’t want to read them, I just avoid the thread completely. And if I venture into the thread the word SPOILER is enough for me to be warned and not read on.

  5. I don’t mind spoilers but I don’t always seek them out. So often I don’t read reviews until I have finished the book, but if I sense something in the book might bother me, I’m going to seek them out. I have so many less hot buttons now than I had when I first started reading romance. Now my hot buttons are cruel heroes and big mistunderstandings that leave the couple at odds throughout the book. If I feel the heroine is better off with another guy, that is a hot button. Unfortunately, by the time I am coming to that conclusion, I have wasted my time on half the book. That is when I would have liked to have a spoiler before I picked up the book.

    I avoid spoilers on message boards by reading the word…SPOILER, and I don’t read on. I don’t need the white-out feature, and frankly, it is very easy to see the words through the white anyway. I tend to avoid entire threads if I know I am going to be reading the book.

  6. I actually seek spoilers because they will prevent me from reading a book I will hate and wasting money and time. I do hate it when a hero and heroine spend a significant time apart, tstl characters, feisty heroines, zany comedy, endless and repetitive introspection, and authors who underestimate the intelligence of their readers, among other things. I have been burned too many times by these issues, so if the author is not an auto-buy for me, I appreciate spoilers.

  7. I actively seek spoilers on books that I have reservations about reading. I have a few pet peeves and I don’t want to waste time and money. One pet peeve is adultery when we’re suppose to like the person involved. I can handle rakes that are continuing their old ways and are then reformed by their “convenient” wife, or something along those lines. But for us to be sympathetic with a character(s) committing adultery (Julia Spenser-Fleming) I can’t stomach. Also, I generally dislike “the dead, then not dead” story line. I’ve read a couple of books where this works, like Forget Me Not by Marliss Melton. (That’s not a spoiler, for those concerned.)

    But my “hate above all things, instant wall-banger, never forgive the heroine” peeve is the “secret baby.” There are few circumstances that I can accept for this plot line (Baby, Oh Baby by Robin Wells is one of those exceptions). So I definitely want to know if a book contains a woman trying to keep a child from the father.

  8. There are books and books. For some, I need spoilers in order to truly enjoy them, to be able to read without skipping, to be able to appreciate the humour or the worldbuilding. Otherwise I would read on phrase out of five in my eagerness to see the action in fast-forward.
    And there are books that focus on the realtionships and I can enjoy the book without any spoilers.

    I think that the need for a sure happy-ending is what attracted me in Romance. Aren’t romances supposed to guarantee that the heroes win and win each other? Isn’t this a spoiler? In fiction that wasn’t sure. So I suppose that for me it works :)

  9. Oh, goodness…sorry about the double post. I composed one post and it didn’t take. Walked away and did another one. To the powers that be….could you delete the 1st one? Thanks!

  10. I’m an active spoiler-seeker. I prefer not to read whole quotes from the book, because then I get a deja-vu feeling when I’m reading and start to think that I’ve read it before. :) However, I have no interest in reading books that feature infidelity or pregnancies (pregnancies occurring in the epilogue are borderline okay, but even that I can do without); I have nothing against children, I’ve just never found pregnancy or the realities of looking after a newborn or toddler in any way romantic or conducive to fostering a new relationship. A new baby can put stress on the most established relationship and I don’t think it’s the way to bring a fictional couple together. And I agree with the person above – secret baby – *headdesk* Even worse. I like to know these things before I start reading.

  11. As anyone who has read my comments knows, I don’t like big age differences, first cousins marrying, or any number of other things, but I don’t consider knowing this information to be a spoiler. Usually it’s given in the first chapter or two or on the back blurb. What I definitely consider a spoiler and don’t want to know before I see the movie or read the book are things such as the surprise ending of “The Sixth Sense” or “The Crying Game”, who Libby ends up with in Kelly’s “Libby’s London Merchant”, or the heroine’s ancestry in Byatt’s “Possession”. In those discussions I much appreciate the word “spoiler” in the header or the use of whiteout for the print. That way I can choose whether or not I read the post and don’t come across the information inadvertently.

  12. As anyone who has read my comments knows, I don’t like big age differences, first cousins marrying, or any number of other things, but I don’t consider knowing this information to be a spoiler. Usually it’s given in the first chapter or two or on the back blurb. What I definitely consider a spoiler and don’t want to know before I see the movie or read the book are things such as the surprise ending of “The Sixth Sense” or “The Crying Game”, who Libby ends up with in Kelly’s “Libby’s London Merchant”, or the heroine’s ancestry in Byatt’s “Possession”. In those discussions I much appreciate the word “spoiler” in the header or the use of whiteout for the print. That way I can choose whether or not to read the post and don’t come across the information inadvertently.

  13. There are some situations where I appreciate or even actively seek out spoilers. Like everybody, I have hot buttons and would like to know if a book touches on them before I read it. Major character death is a pretty big one for me, after I was really badly burned once. Another are love triangles. I don’t mind them, but I’d like to know who ends up together before diving in, because again I’ve been badly burned when a character made the IMO totally wrong choice. Rape, violence and cruelty are hot buttons as well, but usually those issues show up in discussions and reviews beforehand. For example, based on the discussion of the latest Susan Elizabeth Phillips book, I know that it’s not something I would want to read.

    I don’t get overly upset about accidentally being spoiled either. For example, I’ve seen people upset about someone spoiling the ending of “Waiting for Godot” – the play is only 58 years old and the ending world famous. Just lately, someone tore into me for writing that “really depressing things happen and major characters die” in a three year old TV series. Mind you, I never said who dies and what depressing things happen, just that someone dies and something depressing happens. I actually intended it as a warning for people who don’t want to see that sort of thing.

    Besides, if it’s the next installment in a hotly awaited series and I absolutely don’t want to be spoiled, I avoid all discussions and reviews entirely. The downside is that if something really unexpectedly horrible happens, I am absolutely not prepared for it (yes, I’ve been badly burned that way, too).

    When discussing books/films/TV shows, I generally use spoiler warnings. If the book/film/TV show contains developments that might be problematic for certain readers/viewers (e.g. extreme violence, character deaths, a central couple breaking up in one book and reuniting in the next), I usually say something like “This is not a romance, so it doesn’t play by romance rules” or “Or it’s really dark and violent” or “If you want to read/watch this, you should really seek out spoilers beforehand to make an informed decision.”

  14. Sounds like a lot of you are on the same page as me! And a lot of the things that will ruin a book for most of us — deaths, separations, adultery, etc. — all just take the sheen off of a true HEA.

  15. I remember someone being angry with me for “spoiling” the movie “Titanic” – not about the hero’s death, but at the fact that the SHIP SANK.

  16. I wish I was kidding.

    Apparently, this person not only never read any history, but didn’t even see the 28,462 previews/commercials of the movie.

    Honestly, it’s not “I AM your father, Luke.”

  17. I’d want to know about big issues like that – personally, I don’t like books (or movies for that matter) where the 2 leads spend a lot of time apart – for example, I HATED Sleepless in Seattle – they were never together – where’s the fun in that? What I like about romances is seeing the relationship grow between the two (well, usually two!) people and if they don’t spend time together that’s pretty hard.

  18. Jane,

    I read the end before reading the whole book. Typically I don’t do that but I hate triangles. And I wanted to see who got the girl.

    So, I did’t go through the angst that you did. However, the plot of the hero or heroine dying and coming back to life just seems manipulating.

  19. I feel I need to say something here about the “Marrying Daisy Bellamy” thread to which I commented in an earlier post that I read spoilers in it. When I went back to that thread, it was very clear in the subject title that there were spoilers. The initiator clearly labeled it “Marrying Daisy Bellamy – spoilers.” How clear can one be? Not much more so. It was I who wandered into that one not paying attention even though we all were forewarned before even clicking into it.

    Had I read that book and saw a thread already containing spoilers, I too would have felt that I could say anything about the book and not worry about giving anything away.

    So my apologies for this statement up above. Mea culpa, my own fault, for not paying attention and kudos to the originator for labeling it from the outset.

  20. I actively seek out spoilers too. I would rather know what I am getting into before I read the book. More than anything else I need a proper HEA and I cannot stand book series that give me a HEA in one book and take it away in the next (Jude Deveraux – one of them did something like this). I never went back to her. I also read book endings especially if I doubt the blurb and in mysteries :-)

  21. If I have doubts about a book I seek spoilers in order to avoid wasting time on it. However, I do not read spoilers for books by my favorite authors, simply because I trust them.

  22. I only actively seek out spoilers if I’ve heard the book might have one of my triggers, because I have a few triggers that will completely shut me down for a few days if I read about them in any way, but thankfully most mainstream romances don’t really discuss this much!

    Dealbreakers, though, are TSTL heroes or heroines, overbearing heroes, timid heroines, heroes and heroines who DON’T TALK ABOUT ANYTHINGb TO EACH OTHER which leads to the Big Misunderstanding, and the heroine not telling the hero she’s pregnant “for his own good because STUPID REASONING OMG”, especially if there’s no extenuating circumstances and no other reason for him not to know. Not informing the father in accidental pregnancies after one-night stands in contemporaries are more understandable but I still hate when heroes aren’t told. Stop treating the hero like he can’t make up his own mind!

  23. I agree with Tee. I prefer reading a book (or seeing a movie) that I know nothing about, except the very basic premise. Plot is very important to me. I love to see it unfold from the point of view of the characters (not already knowing it). I agree that there are a lot of reused or similar plots out there, but every-once-in-a-while…I’m surprised. And that is what I love. Think Sixth Sense.

    Judging from the posts on this subject, it seems Tee and I are in the minority.

    If there’s a book I’m really looking forward to, like the next book in a series, I’ll avoid all reviews until after I’ve read the book. If I’m looking for something new to read, I’ve used the reviews on this site and others many times. But most of the time, I just check the grade and skim the review so that not-too-much is revealed.

    The question Jane asks is a good one. Do you think major plot lines should be revealed in a review? Overall, I agree they should be. Because I have hot points that are deal breakers for me too (violence and torture are a couple). By not reading reviews or skimming reviews, I’ve started quite a few books that I haven’t been able to finish because they hit a hot point . But I’ve also, found the jewels, that I know nothing about and unfolded just for me with no preconceived perceptions.

  24. I can’t pronounce May-son DY-Sick without thinking Mason Dixon, which is not only a line in the sand, but the name of a nasty disc jockey in Tampa.Report this comment as spam or abuse

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