I am currently reading quite a few books. A writing artefact keeps hitting me that I will coin as internal spoilers. You see it in films as well as books and short stories.
It goes like this. There is a preface, or an early chapter, or a few scenes in a film – then the narrative moves back in time to before the prose just shown.
I understand why this is done. It is an attempt to engage the reader, to say to them ‘the rest of the book is good – look this thing will happen later’. Also it always seems to get done for the same reason. The fact that the start of the book is of poor quality and that a reader is likely to discard the book without it.
Maybe it is an editorial or a publishers decision, maybe it is the decision of the author. But if the start of the book or film is so poor that you have to jazz it up with an internal spoiler – why don’t you fix the start instead? Maybe you just started it at the wrong point.
Internal spoilers – even if the reader cannot correctly guess the path or even the context of the spoiler – still spoil the story. As a reader I am waiting for my expectation to arrive. Even if I guess wrong – it still spoils the reading experience.
As an aside – internal spoilers are not the same as feigning a direction of the story within the natural narrative flow. Here the reader also guesses what is going to happen – but in this case it doesn’t spoil the reading experience, and can in fact enhance it.
So please, if you or your editor or your publisher are pushing to put in an internal spoiler. Don’t do it.