Saturday 1st February 2003

David Quidnunc has suggested we should discuss a general policy on plot spoilers in annotations. Sometimes it seems necessary to divulge something that happens in the “future” to explain a point, but given that most of us don’t know what’s coming up for Pepys this might spoil any suspense. He says:

In the 25 January notes, “Bored” has a good point about plot spoilers — if we mention now something about Uncle Wight that happens years in the future, we’ll likely have forgotten the matter by then. On the other hand, I want to ask you to create a page for Uncle William Wight. Perhaps on that page we should be more careful about a plot spoiler, since we can expect it to be around whenever Wight comes up in the diary again.

I also have a feeling that plot spoilers don’t really matter when they concern historical figures that Pepys may not even meet (Fairfax, for example).

How many readers actually care about plot spoilers? I’m convinced some do. Is it all right with even those readers if the rest of us to mention plot spoilers if we just label them “Plot Spoiler: ” somewhere up front?

So, what do you think?

27 Comments

Alan   Link to this

It would appear that reservations about plot spoiling deny the inescapable fact that most readers when excited about there read are known to go to future pages. This is, afterall, a book that we are reading, it it not?

M.Stolzenbach   Link to this

That's an interesting question.

Having been reading Tomalin's biography, I was myself mulling a post today to the effect "Stay tuned for some exciting events tomorrow, Feb. 2!"

sam   Link to this

Hmm.. although this is technically a book, we're seeing a chapter a day. So, to me, spoilers are like trying to watch a tv show or movie while someone is constantly telling you what will happen next; and/or going on about something exciting that will happen in next week's episode/after the ending titles. Notwithstanding that I am myself quite likely to enthuse about something beforehand!

Yet since the whole point of this site is to reveal each day's events, there's no point in revealing more at once..? Those in a hurry or eager to read ahead can always find the book, after all.

This said, I don't really mind spoilers, except revelations of the immediate future - tomorrow, next week; next month may already be far enough for it not to matter. Except in the sense of it being marginally redundant to read the daily events when you know the contents beforehand..

(Apologies for wavering back and forth. My vote is 'no plot spoilers, please'.)

language hat   Link to this

I think Quidnunc has it about right.
It would be silly to worry about "spoilers" involving, say, the Great Fire. On the other hand, I really don't want to be told (or even hinted at, M.Stolzenbach) about what's going to happen in the next few days. And Alan, speak for yourself -- it would never occur to me to "go to future pages"; if I wanted to do that, I'd be reading the book, not following the blog.

Joost   Link to this

Plot spoilers? Don't be silly; it's not a mystery novel. Knowing what's coming doesn't spoil a thing. It's history. If I read in a history book about Sherman's Meridian campaign, and the historian mentions that the general is going to do the same thing later in Georgia, what plot is spoiled?

However, a warning attached to the note could stop people from reading what they don't want to.

Peregrina   Link to this

I agree with Joost.

David Milofsky   Link to this

I'm with language hat on this. It seems absurd to worry about plot spoilers in a book written more than three hundred years ago. I mean, is there something about the events that is going to be surprising? And is the Diary even a novel and does it even have a plot?

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

I think the question's easily solved...

From my experience on various music discussion lists, where some people get access to albums or attend tours before others, the solution comes down to simply putting the word "spoiler" in the heading of the post (in this case, annotation). That way, people who care about "reading ahead" (I'm with you, LH!) can choose not to read the annotation, while those who don't care can read and discuss "future" events freely.

What say ye?

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

In other words, like language hat, I agree with David Q...

(That'll teach me to read the intro more closely!)

nick sweeney   Link to this

>>It seems absurd to worry about plot spoilers in a book written more than three hundred years ago. I mean, is there something about the events that is going to be surprising?<<

That's not the point. A history book is, by definition, written in retrospect, taking a grand survey of the facts and making judgements. A novel is, by definition, 'composed' so that it has a similar formal coherence.

A diary, by contrast, is a day-to-day record of 'events unfolding', and as such, part of the interest of reading it is to do as much as possible to sympathise with Pepys' own sense of the 'nowness' of events. As the opening entries show, there's a real sense of uncertainty in Pepys' discussion of the political future of the country -- and though we all probably know how it turns out, it seems rather blinkered (and in fact, indulgent) to over-anticipate the events in a way that distracts us from the 'nowness' that this web-based format gives to the diary.

This isn't a question of 'surprising' the reader: crikey, this is a period I studied for years, but never with such attention to the minutiae of a single text, and by extension, the minutiae of a single life. It's about the fact that we have a format for the diary that reflects the manner in which it was composed, and as such, allows us a particular 'slowness' and sympathy with the composer in a way that isn't recreated in the print version. Is it too much to ask that we embrace that formal conceit?

Is there a way, perhaps, to allow the posting of spoilers so that readers such as myself don't have to read them? Such things are useful in retrospect for the purpose of cross-reference, but since this site 'does' the diary in such an innovative form, re-capturing the sense of a work-in-progress, it seems a pity to negate the formal innovation by encouraging spoilers.

So, count me with the 'no spoilers' camp.

George Peabody   Link to this

I agree with Nick - let's take it one day at a time as it comes and not anticipate stuff like the date in 1664 when Sam gets kidnapped by space aliens... oops, sorry. Maybe we could have a Spoilers page, or just drop the "What to do about" from the title of this one.

Warren Keith Wright   Link to this

Given the plethora of people and events, and the One Day at a Time method of reading, this reader is not sure he's going to be able to remember the foretold Future when it finally arrives. I go with Todd B. on the 'SPOILER' warning. (Of course to some that may be an incentive!)

michael f vincent   Link to this

my 2 cents worth : there be a spoiler page. 22/22 vision is nice but the idea is to comprehend what he was doing with the data he had at that time. Just a thought.

Allan Russell   Link to this

I want to understand Samuels world, the diary is out there , so if there is an event or something which has future repercussions I would like to understand it in the context of what I read today. If I were studying the book as A level (or as my mum did as School Cert) I would want to be able to discuss the implications. The diaries are both a work of literature and a eye witness account, we can only all benefit if we may discuss the future implications of what Samuel sees and says.

Peter Mehlin   Link to this

Add me to the group that is for spoilers with the word "spoilers" in the heading of the annotation so that anyone who wants to skip it can do so.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

Thanks, everybody, for your comments so far, and thanks, Phil, for this page.

Most people posting here don't want plot spoilers. It seems to me that the best way to accomodate the most people is to label these passages "PLOT SPOILER" up front.

A small number of you (maybe just Nick Sweeney and George Peabody, but possibly also Michael Vincent and Sam) would prefer we not have plot-spoiling information on regular pages of the site, even if identified - or perhaps have it pushed onto a page of its own. Some others may like that idea too. I don't care either way about a separate page.

By the way, I had 12 people ask me to email them the plot-spoiler info on Uncle Wight after I offered to take requests. I'd never make that offer on a big topic where I might get 100 emails.

Some humble suggestions on questions anyone should ask themselves before posting a plot spoiler: (1) Does it really contribute to our understanding? (2) Does this information really have to be posted now, or would we lose nothing by waiting until this information is no longer a plot spoiler? (3) Is there another way of making the same point without using a plot spoiler? (4) Can I minimize the plot-spoiling effect by making a more general statement? (5) Can I keep the plot spoiler as short as possible by removing non-spoiler information from it, perhaps by posting that information in a separate annotation or part of an annotation NOT labeled "plot spoiler"?

Simple consideration for others is the main reason to be careful about this, but it's in the self-interest of all of us not to drive away people who often post very valuable information.

That's also a big reason to keep our discussions civil, even courteous.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

Plot spoiler perameters

1)If you'd rather not have plot spoilers, does that only apply to events in the life of Pepys and other important characters or to minor characters as well (like Uncle Wight or Samuel Cromleholme)?

2)Does it apply to public officials that Pepys writes about but doesn't meet (like Fleetwood, Fairfax or Richard Cromwell)?

3)If the spoiler concerns something that happens in the far future (say, a year or more away), then do you care whether or not the plot is spoiled?

4)Do you consider it in any way a plot spoiler to know what happens to Pepys or anybody else after the diary ends in 1669?

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

I'm afraid we might go too far if we try to set rules or parameters.

I appreciate David's efforts in bringing this issue up, and in trying to anticipate the subtleties and exceptions involved, and in trying to alleviate any problems that might occur as a result, but I wonder if we might be expecting too much if we expect people to consider multiple guidelines as they post spoilers.

It'll be interesting to watch the growth and development of this group of Pepysophiles over the next decade -- we might stay stable and small, and "rules" (such as they are) will generally be followed. But given the anarchy of the Internet, I don't expect that to happen, and so things might work best if they're kept as simple as possible -- i.e., if you can remember to do it, please put "spoiler" in the heading of your annotation if you're going to reveal something *now* that is talked about *later in the diary*. That then gives people the choice to read or not and, as David rightly brings up, will not stop people from posting valuable info.

Does this sound reasonable, or am I off-course?

Phil   Link to this

Thanks for the interesting discussion everyone! You sound perfectly on-course Todd.

Basically, I think everyone should bear in mind that many people are treating this as a day-by-day experience and don't wish to know what's going to happen next in the diary. This becomes a bit less important when relating the future events of minor characters that don't impact on Pepys himself.

Use common sense: only mention something that's going to happen to Pepys in the future if it's essential to a point you're making, and if you do so, preface it with a spoiler warning. Don't spoil things for others.

There will always be grey areas and some people, especially those who haven't read this, are bound to post spoilers at some point over the coming years; if so, a gentle reminder of the policy will set them straight.

I hope that makes sense.

Bulkington   Link to this

Phil: I think that makes eminent sense. I think that, despite the fact that the Diary is not a novel or fiction as we understand it now, that it is a narrative we are all following, and that in that sense it would be just as distressing to find out some important turn in the road ahead of time as it would be if we were all reading Tom Jones or anything else.

Also (if I may wax philosophical for a moment here) I don't think we can emphasize how important the Diary's form is--it is not an autobiography (written at the end of a life), nor a series of letters to and from Pepys or anyone else. It is a "diary" on purpose--a "journal"--both words from the Latin and the French (dies and jour, respectively) for "day". It is thus the record of a day, the narrative of a life lived day by day, as it is lived, without the 20/20 vision that hindsight (ie, autobiography) so famously affords. As such, it should be experienced day by day, exactly as we have been, and without the benefit of organization or imposition of a stucture that hindsight narrative affords.

This is all just to say that there is extra justification in this case to want to be as surprised by every day's events as Pepys was.

Odin   Link to this

Count another for no spoilers. I do however, waver as well. Ergo, as suggested, a spoiler page would be good. There will be those times when for whatever reason we will be tempted to ''peek''. That should be allowed as I'm sure Sam would have too.

michael f vincent   Link to this

spoilers : another thought: This presentation by PHIL is like enjoying a glass of bubbly, lets not spoil the buzz by telling us tommorow that one's head will be a buzzing.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

Todd & Phill are right

I was making it too complicated, when a guideline needs to be simple.

In my own defense, however, I'll say I was thinking more in terms of how each of us thinks about it, not about establishing a complex code of conduct.

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

No need for defense, David!

I had read your annotations as considerations of the subtleties involved, not as an attempt to set down rules, but I wanted to make sure that others didn't get put off by the whole spoiler issue by thinking that it might get too complex to follow or "enforce."

Again, thanks for bringing the issue up, David, and for your other contributions to the site. As others have said more eloquently than I, it's really nice to vicariously experience Sam's life day by day. I know there will probably be times when I won't be able to fight the temptation to "skip ahead," but at least the warning of a spoiler gives me that choice.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

In defense of plot spoilers and differences

Although you wouldn't know it to read the posts above, I'm sure that people who don't like plot spoilers (the "Unspoiled") understand perfectly well why the rest of us (the "Spoilsports") couldn't care less about knowing the Pepys "future" beyond the present day's diary entry, and people on my side have a pretty good notion about why others want to keep it a surprise. But does everyone realize that we both benefit by having the other side around?

We Spoilsports want to get the goods on Pepys and his world -- we'll use any tool available to understand it better. It's pretty straightforward.

One advantage we have by doing this would appeal to the Unspoiled -- we will sometimes get a better notion about what's going through Pepys's head as he's writing this day's diary entry. And we'll know it today, as we're reading today's entry or just afterward. If we can convey our insight to you, the Unspoiled, without giving away the plot itself, then you'll benefit too.

The value of this site for us is that it focuses our attention, as a team, on a particular spot in the diary once a day. There's nothing invalid about that way of using this site.

We also benefit from the presence of the Unspoiled -- your "blinders" give you a better feel for what would be new to Pepys in the day-to-day events, and you'll likely pick up on something that we miss.

(By the way, thanks Todd, but I think I really did make it too complex. I may even be doing that with this post . . .)

David Quidnunc   Link to this

And by the way . . .

With Groundhog Day arriving, I'd urge anyone to rent the movie of the same name -- as an illustration of the advantages of knowing the future!

Eric Walla   Link to this

Is that what that movie is about, David?

Thanks for spoiling it for me! ;-)

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