Story Spoilers Don't Spoil Storytelling

The usual storytelling advice is to keep your story in suspense: the twist of your story should come at the end. One recent study published in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science suggests that this common belief may be wrong: story spoilers don’t spoil the storytelling. Instead, knowing how the story ends actually makes it more enjoyable.

Study subjects read different versions of 12 stories by Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie, and other well-known writers. One version was the original story; the other version began with a spoiler paragraph; the third version also had a spoiler but it was woven into the story.

According to the study authors, as reported by U.S. News & World Report:

… the spoilers helped only when offered in the introductory paragraphs, not incorporated into the stories.

[One] possible reason why readers may prefer “spoiled” stories is that they are simply easier to understandKnowing what happens in the end may make the story easier for the brain to process.

“So it could be that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story,” explained the study’s co-author, Jonathan Leavitt, of UC San Diego’s psychology department …

If the study authors are right, then it is one more point for cognitive fluency.