When is it okay to give away major plot details?

Posted on October 12, 2016 (Subscribe to Blog)

I'm constantly plagued by dilemmas about what past plot details to give away when promoting and even writing the next book in the series. If Book 1 has been out for six months and Book 2 is imminent, is it okay to reveal some major information about the first book in order to properly plug the second?

I'll let you ponder that while I bring you up to date with the latest news...

Newest Book in the Island of Fog Chronicles

I started work on Tails of a Shapeshifter (Island of Fog Chronicles). Yes, "Tails" is deliberately misspelled; it's a play on words. I'm bundling a few of the free short stories from this website into an ebook, but I'm filling in around them with brand new material and a few extra stories. Some readers may feel this is cheating, but actually I've had a LOT of requests to do this because many readers just prefer to read things on their Kindle in the usual way rather than read it online here. And adding some new material will hopefully make it a worthwhile buy even for those who have read the free short stories.

Hal and Abigail have to pop out one evening on a very quick mission, and they leave their son Travis (who is 8 years old in this book) with Robbie and Lauren and their kids. This gives Robbie a chance to tell some tall tales, some taller than others. So, with Travis settled comfortably near the fireplace along with 7-year-old Melinda and her little brother Mason, Robbie rubs his hands with glee and launches into some truly unbelievable stories. Some of them you might have read on this website. Others will be brand new.

The book will include the two pre-written Christmas tales along with the 4-part Silver Wand story, plus another three tales you've never seen before, as well as all the interconnecting segments. One thing to note is that, since Robbie is telling the stories, he will feature in all of them. Overall, a decent-sized book and a good addition to the Chronicles series.

This should be available in the next few months, date to be confirmed.

Not by coincidence, the next book in the Island of Fog Legacies series (Gargoyle Scourge, which I'm working on right now) also features Melinda, this time in the lead role at age 11, with Travis taking a back seat and assisting her. I gave some details about this novel in my last post, and I'd like to give more, only that would spoil it. Which leads to my main topic...

Major Plot Details, and When to Give Them Away

My first book, Island of Fog, is very much a mystery-adventure. What is happening to these kids? What's the secret behind the fog? Who is the mysterious Miss Simone, and where does she come from? To give away the plot details would spoil the story. Yet, when I wrote the second book, Labyrinth of Fire, I knew I couldn't promote it very well without giving away some vital information.

So I suppose the rule is that a book's plot should be kept secret until it's no longer possible, like when the next book is published. Still, this means new readers coming along several years later won't ever experience that "what the heck is happening?" moment the original readers felt.

It's like the movie Alien. It's a psychological horror that relies heavily on first-time viewing experience. Those who went to see the movie in 1979 fully expected the ship's captain, played by actor Tom Skerritt, to be the hero – because he was the big star at the time, while most others were not so well known. Then the captain died, and the audience thought, "Whoa! What the...?" And after that, they had NO IDEA who would die a xenomorphic death and who, if anyone, would survive. Sigourney Weaver? Who's she?

Nowadays we watch the movie knowing full well that Siggy is the star, and so we enjoy the movie in a different way. But nothing beats that first time. (I'm not old enough to have watched it in the movie theater, but I watched it on TV a year or so later and experienced the same thrill.)

Throughout the Island of Fog series, I've been careful to keep spoilers hidden as much as possible while giving away what's necessary to promote the next book. The synopsis of Labyrinth of Fire starts, "Hal Franklin and his friends have made it safely into Miss Simone's world. As shapeshifters, some of them are looking forward to meeting their alternate kind." I can't very well hide the fact that they cross into a new world as shapeshifters, can I? "Hal Franklin and his friends have made it safely to, um, somewhere. As, um, well, special kids, some of them are looking forward to meeting, er, well, something..."

Similarly, the first book in the Sleep Writer series has a massive twist near the end. But I try hard not to reveal this one, neither on the backs of later books nor even in the stories themselves. You'd probably still enjoy the first book knowing exactly what happens at the end, but it's better with no spoilers.

Back to the Fog series... Now that I'm writing the Legacies books, set twenty years later, I not only have to reveal the basic ideas of the original series, but I have to reveal some important plot twists from the very last book, Castle of Spells. As usual, I try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but it's a difficult balancing act.

So, just to remind you, here's the question:

Is it okay for an author to give away major plot details when the next book of a series is due for release? Can you remember a time when you were a late-comer to a promising series and found it ruined by spoilers?

Imagine if you had never watched Sixth Sense and had no idea what that huge twist was at the end, and they made a sequel whose tagline was "He sees... etc" (spoiler hidden for the benefit of those few people who haven't watched it). A tagline like that would ruin the original movie. But whose fault is that, really?

Here's another thing...

I generally write chapter titles, and someone once said I gave away something in the first book with one of those titles. This is because, originally, the book was written for the print market only. I never include a Table of Contents in the front of print books. When the reader gets to the end of a chapter, the next chapter's title makes perfect sense as a natural progression in the story, so the titles can reveal something at that point without spoiling anything. But then I put Island of Fog out as a Kindle book, and the Table of Contents is shown at the front of the book – hence the spoiler. Or spoilers; there are probably quite a few if you look closely.

So another question for you:

How closely do you look at the Table of Contents when reading my books or others? Does it ever give anything away that makes you grumble with irritation?

Personally, I have no interest in the Table of Contents at the front of a book except, obviously, as a means to jump back to where I left off before. I like to read a chapter title when I actually get to that chapter, but not before. Reading it before seems pointless to me.

That's all for now. Looking forward to your comments!

Comment by SAMANTHA KERNER on Wednesday, October 12, 2016...

Hey. Love your books and can't wait for the 3rd book in the Island of Fog Legacies to come out. I agree with you about the Table of Contents subject. As for your question, I think that it should be fine if you give a way some major plot details but not all. Leave people wondering a little. Keep up the great work and don't stop making books.

Comment by GRAEME JENKS on Thursday, October 13, 2016...

I have to say, that I dont look at table of contents on the chance that it may give something away, I just start reading the books. I can see what your saying about continuing a series though, It could be difficult to promote without certain information. Plus, you need certain info for the ones who have read the earlier books in a series. I have not yet found any spoilers with your books, so you must be doing something right, so why stop. Haha. Nothing I have read has spoiled any of your books, hope this helps in any way.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Thursday, October 13, 2016...

Thanks, Samantha and Graeme!

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