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Administrivia / Self-Fulfilling Spoiler

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A Self-Fulfilling Spoiler is the particularly aggravating practice of using spoiler tags that make it quite clear what they're concealing by their length, their position, or the wording of the surrounding sentence. Because of this, you can easily guess what's behind the tag, which of course defeats the entire point of using them at all. Even if the reader can't tell the specifics, they can tell enough that there's something spoilery there.

Part of this comes from the fact that using spoiler tags is an art, and it takes some practice to know which words should be spoilered. For example, let's take the trope Luke, I Am Your Father and its trope-naming example, which is good for demonstration because the details have long since permeated popular culture.

This is a good example:

This is as good as we can make it. Obviously, the fact that someone's father isn't who he thinks it is can be a little bit of a spoiler in itself, but at least you don't know who the characters involved are.

On the other hand, don't do this:

This is the epitome of the self-fulfilling spoiler, because you can easily guess what's under the spoiler tag because you're on a page named "Luke, I Am Your Father". What else would you expect to find there? There's a reason the example is there to begin with.

Now that we've gone over the basics, here are some more techniques in the art of spoiler-tagging to avoid this problem:

  • Don't spoiler tag the work's title. The name of the work is the most important part of the example. It would be impossible to even know if the reader can safely read the rest of the example if they don't know where the example is from.
  • Avoid short names. In some works, only a few characters have names that short, so it's easy to guess who they are. If you say, "in Harry Potter, Ron does something that's a really big spoiler", if you're at all familiar with the work, you can probably guess that it's Ron because no other major character has a name short enough to fit in a spoiler box that size. This is even worse when you have a character with a One-Letter Name. To make the name harder to guess, try using the character's full name (e.g. Ron Weasley) or adding a brief description of the character's role (e.g. Harry's friend Ron).
  • Avoid short words. Even if it's not a name, it's easy to guess what a word might be if it's very short. For instance, if you see that "the protagonist dies", it's pretty clear what's under that spoiler — something that's short and spoilery tends to narrow down your options quite a bit. If you lengthen the spoiler, it could be anything; "the protagonist dies a gruesome and undeserved death" isn't much different from "the protagonist survives and hooks up with the Love Interest".
  • Be careful with Gender Reveals. Spoiler-tagging a pronoun is almost guaranteed to lead to the reader picking up on the idea that the character's gender is not what they originally thought. This is a tricky one, because even if you rephrase the example without using spoiler tags at all — for instance, by using the "singular they" — readers may pick up on what you're doing. Consider focusing on the event rather than a character — for instance, changing "the time her arm was injured" to "the arm injury".
  • Be careful with word placement. If you write "the villain seemingly dies", or even "the villain dies or so we think", the reader knows that the villain's death scene is not how it first appears — presumably, he didn't really die or might come back to life later. Try rewriting it in a different phrase or sentence to make the spoiler seem more tangential to what it's spoiling; for instance, "the villain dies, and also he's not really dead" — or, in the vein of the above, "he injured his arm, or rather she injured her arm".
  • Don't add spoilers for completely separate works. You might be completely familiar with Work A and not mind seeing any spoilers for it (since you already know them all), but you're not necessarily familiar with Work B and might be planning on seeing it later. If you're reading a page for Work A, it's safe to assume that all spoilers therein refer to Work A — so imagine one's frustration at uncovering a spoiler and finding it applies to Work B, especially if Work B is not mentioned or hidden under a spoiler tag. Even if you make it clear that it's a spoiler for Work B, this can still be a self-fulfilling spoiler because you know that whatever it is, it's a lot like Work A.
  • Don't even mention The Mousetrap — it's a special case. It's a play that swears its audience to secrecy as to the culprit, and throughout the wiki we have obliged and refuse to spoil it. But if you put a reference to it on a page, even if it's under spoiler tags, that might give too much of a hint. If you're really curious, go to The Other Wiki; we won't help you.

Then there are some self-fulfilling spoilers that we can't solve — their very presence on a work page is a spoiler in and of itself. If you see The Hero Dies, the entire rest of the example can be in spoiler tags (which is poor form in itself), but you'll still know exactly what happens. It's even worse with character pages, as it's impossible to hide the character to whom the trope applies; on the work page, The Mole could refer to anyone, but on a character page, it can only refer to one character. There are two ways to deal with this: either don't add the example at all (and resign yourself to an incomplete page), or declare the whole page to be Spoilers Off and add a bold Unmarked Spoilers Ahead warning at the top of the page. The latter is much more likely if the spoiler trope is too important to leave out or if there are too many of them to deal with.

This page is a subset of our Spoiler Policy.