Tag Archives: Etiquette

How Social Media Is Changing the Rules About Spoilers

Those of you who have been following me for years might remember my post from 2014 about hating spoilers.

Since then I’ve been paying attention to how social media – especially Twitter – has been changing the rules about if, whether, and when it’s okay to share spoilers.

It was especially interesting to see how people reacted to The Handmaid’s Tale a few months ago because of how much faster that show was released in the U.S. than it was in other parts of the world.

Canada was always one or two episodes behind the United States depending on which day of the week you were on. Other countries were even further behind us.

People in the States were sharing spoilers before or right after the latest episode there ended. Even mainstream news sites were leaking plot twists as they discussed what had currently happened and what was going to happen next. I had to mute the hashtags for that show and avoid reading all news articles about it until I’d finished the whole series.

While I still believe that it’s rude to share spoilers for a show that has just aired, not everyone agrees with me and not everyone who does agree with me has the same rules about how to go about sharing them after a certain amount of time has passed.

The Old Rules

This varied according to which parts of the Internet you spent time in, of course, but I remember the old rules being as follows:

  • Always put a spoiler warning before sharing anything that mentioned even mild plot twists.
  • Don’t discuss the latest episode of your favourite show with people who haven’t seen it yet unless they tell you they don’t mind.
  • When in doubt, don’t mention it.

I do not remember the mainstream media releasing spoilers back then the way they do now. To be fair, I don’t know if that’s because I watched fewer shows at that point or if the rules have since changed for the media as well.

The Controversy

If cats knew what spoilers were, they’d disapprove of them.

I’m going to be doing some generalizing and simplifying here for the sake of brevity, but people who have an opinion on this issue seem to fall into one of two camps.

The first camp believes that everything is up for discussion the second a show has finished airing in their time zone. While some of them do warn everyone about their discussion of spoilers ahead of time, many others don’t bother to mention it at all.

Interestingly enough, my own mother belongs in this group. If I read a book or watch a movie that she hasn’t tried yet, she genuinely doesn’t mind hearing spoilers about it. This blows my mind sometimes, but I’m much less cautious about discussing how stories end with her than I am with almost everyone else I know.

The second camp is against all spoilers. We want to be warned of potential spoilers well in advance so we can avoid them. We often also want everyone to use the official hashtags for that show or movie so that we can mute them before any of the plot twists are revealed.

The New Rules

  • Always use the appropriate hashtags when discussing your favourite shows on social media.
  • Give people fair warning if you will be sharing spoilers.
  • Find likeminded people to discuss (or avoid) spoilers with.
  • Respect the rights of others to make different decisions.
  • When in doubt, don’t mention it.

From what I’ve seen, the Internet hasn’t yet come to a conclusion about how long everyone should wait before spoiler tags are no longer necessary.

I take a conservative approach and add spoiler tags to almost everything. Just because a book was released a few decades ago doesn’t mean that everyone has read it. While I do occasionally share spoilers about old movies, TV shows, and books, I warn people first in case they don’t want to know what happened.

It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out over the next few years.  Is giving spoiler warnings for everything no matter when it was released the best way to handle it? I honestly don’t know. This is something I do as a courtesy for others, but I don’t think it’s currently realistic to expect everyone to follow this rule given how unwilling they are to wait even a few days to dissect current shows.

With that being said, I would like to see people become more aware of the fact that their favourite shows have global audiences and that not every country or time zone gets the latest episode simultaneously.

Why It’s Okay to Eavesdrop for Creative Purposes

 I have a confession to make today. Listening in on other people’s conversations is one of my favourite things to do, and I don’t think any artistic person should feel the least bit guilty about it.

In fact, we should be doing it regularly.

Why is that, you might be wondering? I have several different reasons for feeling this way.

This Isn’t About Spreading or Listening to Gossip. I would be equally interested in overhearing people passionately debate their favourite fishing techniques as I would a happy story about someone they know who just got engaged. If someone really loves a certain topic, their enthusiasm for it can be contagious.

There’s also something fascinating about conversations that aren’t rehearsed or expected to be remembered in any way. I like the little pauses people add to what they say before they share big news and the different sounds they make when they hear something sad, thrilling, troubling, or wonderful.

The way that words slip off of a real person’s tongue isn’t always the same as the way that characters speak. It’s interesting to find these small cracks between the two and try to fill them in the next time I read or write something that didn’t quite hit the mark.

Your Intentions Are Good. On a related note, another big reason why I don’t have a problem with eavesdropping for creative purposes is because artists and writers generally have good intentions when they do it. We listen in on other people’s conversations to find inspiration, not stir up trouble or poke our noses into other people’s business.

There have been times when I suddenly stopped eavesdropping on people because of how personal or sensitive their exchange was becoming. It’s one thing to overhear someone talk about what kind of fruit to pick up at the grocery store and quite another to listen to them plan a funeral or publicly break up with their partner.

These aren’t things that I have any interest in overhearing. They really should have happened in a private place anyway, so I pretend like I never heard them if they accidentally spill out into the public sphere. Someone who was eavesdropping for an unsavoury purpose wouldn’t have this kind of discretion.

Some Moments Were Made for Each Other. Have you ever thought of the perfect comeback minutes, hours, or days after a discussion ended? Time travel isn’t possible, of course, but you can always go back and rewrite how things should or could have gone if that’s something you want to.

There’s also something to be said for snipping moments out of real life that never could have happened next to each other and then figuring out how to lay them down gently on a fresh sheet of paper, tuck them into song lyrics, or flick them onto a clean canvas.  The best things I’ve ever written were a curious mixture of wishful thinking, stolen tidbits of time from true events, and characters I’ve already created that demand to keep that particular idea for their own uses.

Other People’s Stories Are Fodder for the Imagination. I have never used an entire conversation that I’ve heard in anything that I’ve written. The details always get changed, and they usually are altered in such profound ways that no no one would recognize their source.

Most of the time these exchanges make me think of questions that lead me to entirely new places in my mind. For example, I might hear someone mispronounce a fairly common word and wonder why they did that. Is English their second language? Did they used to have a severe stutter when they were a child that now only comes through when they try to say certain sounds? Have they only ever read that word in print and so have no idea that they’re mispronouncing it?

There are so many logical explanations for something like this. If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, there could be plenty of supernatural or otherworldly explanations to play around with as well. Has this person been possessed by a ghost who lived in a time when that word was pronounced differently? Is she an alien who is desperately trying to blend into human society while she observes how our society functions and decides whether or not to officially make first contact?

I almost never have a clue if my theories are actually correct, but that doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. They provide a decent jumping off point, and I’m happy to let my imagination wander after that.

Life Would be Dull Without Storytellers. I believe that poets, musicians, writers, painters, and other creative folks fulfill a vital purpose for our species. We take note of those strange, beautiful, difficult, or thought-provoking moments in life that many other people miss and reinterpret them in all kinds of wonderful ways.

Occasionally we even get to preserve those moments so that they can be savoured decades or even centuries after they originally existed. If this isn’t a kind of immortality, I don’t know what else would qualify. There is something almost magical about still having these snapshots of ordinary times that existed long ago and in faraway places.

So eavesdrop away, fellow creative people! There are beautiful moments slipping by every single day. It’s up to us to capture a few of them and make sure they’re not forgotten.

Why Automated Direct Messages Are a Terrible Idea

monday-blogs-1This is a repost from my old blog. I will be back on Thursday with new material. 

An automated DM (direct message) is a private message that an account sends to you as soon as you follow it. I’ve been seeing far too many of them on Twitter lately.

They are usually used to promote something the account holder is selling like a book or an album. While some DMs don’t follow this rule, all of them are impersonal spam.

Here’s the thing: Twitter is a social media site. People use it to make new friends, share their thoughts, and stay up-to-date on current events. Trying to exploit this to market your product is an excellent way to annoy or even alienate 98% of the people you meet.

As an author, I understand the urge to reach out to potential new readers. I’ve found new readers on Twitter. I’ve also bought multiple books that I first heard about from other tweeps, but it was never due to the author telling me to buy their stuff.

In fact, an automatic DM is one of a handful of things that will prompt me to immediately unfollow someone. It leaves a horrible first impression that is hard to shake off.

Why have I purchased all of those books, then?

Because their authors didn’t make their Twitter streams or their private messages into nonstop commercials. Yes, they shared links when their newest book came out and occasionally mentioned older projects as well.

Most of the time, though, they talked about all of the other things that were going on in their lives. Some of them shared hilarious stories about the  naughty things their pets did, while others talked about more serious subject matters like grief or recovering from child abuse.

They retweeted other people’s links regularly. I can’t count the number of times that I discovered a new author, blog, or Twitter handle to follow because someone chose to share something that they enjoyed.

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Just as importantly, they kept tabs on their followers lives as well. They regularly responded to people who asked them questions or said something they found interesting.

I often saw them cheer for friends who had finally reached a big goal and support others who were going through a hard time.

In short, they were genuine and generous.

So please don’t send out an automatic DM when you gain a new follower any more than you would use pop-ups on your website.

Get to know people as individuals instead.

Build your following one person and one friendly interaction at a time.

Don’t rush it.

Twitter isn’t a race.

It’s more like a party. Slow down, relax, and enjoy the festivities. Nobody is going home anytime soon.

Why Everyone Should Stop Using Pop-Ups

StopThis is a repost from my old blog. I will be back next week with new material. 

I don’t normally rant on this blog, but I’ve been having issues with pop-ups lately. Pop-up advertisements are one of the fastest and most efficient ways to drive me away from a site. It doesn’t matter how much I loved the article I was reading, what the pop-up is saying, or how long I’ve been a fan of that blogger or website.

If the administrators interrupt my concentration with an unwanted pop-up, they’re going to lose a reader for good. If their ad includes a video that starts playing automatically, I’ll be so annoyed that I will tell friends and family members to avoid that site as well.

No, I’m not opposed to the use of advertisements on websites in general. They’re a necessary part of making money on the Internet, and I completely understand that. Banner ads are fine, as are advertisements that are inserted halfway through whatever essay or article I’m reading as long as they don’t make noise or cover up the text.

I don’t care what kinds of racy pictures an ad might include or if they use clickbait titles to grab the reader’s attention. Those are some of the things I’ve come to expect from the web. Non-intrusive online ads are like billboards: sometimes they’re silly; often they’re cheesy; rarely they might even be helpful or interesting.

When a website decides to interrupt me when I’m reading one of their articles by launching a pop-up that I never wanted, though, they’re sending a very clear message about how little they value my time and attention.

It would be like a server interrupting you in the middle of a meal in order to take your half-finished plate away and ask if you wanted to order another entree. I can count the number of times that is acceptable on one hand, and every single one of them would begin with you asking for help due to something like undercooked meat, a fly in your soup, or food allergy issues.

You don’t just randomly start taking things away from people if you want them to keep coming back.

So, please. For the love of pete, stop using pop-up ads.

The Best Way to Respond to People Who Don’t Share Your Taste in Books

Years ago someone asked me what kind of science fiction books I like to read.

I’d hit a lull in that genre shortly before that conversation began, so it took a moment to come up with my answer. The last book I remembered reading and really loving at that point was by a popular, mainstream science fiction writer, so I mentioned their name.

The other person’s disgusted reaction to my answer made my heart sink. This clearly wasn’t an author they liked at all. The conversation quickly shifted to other topics.

Here’s what I wish they’d said to me instead:

Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve never really been able to get into that person’s work. What have you read recently from them? What did you like about it?

For the record, I definitely don’t expect everyone to like the same stuff I do. Life would be incredibly dull if everyone always read and watched the same material.

There are also authors out there whose books don’t appeal to me in any way. What is fresh and exciting to me might be boring or scary to someone else. Those authors have all found audiences who appreciate the kinds of stories they tell, though, and you can learn a lot about someone by figuring out what it is they like about a particular storyteller.

For example:

How Do They See the World?

Someone who reads a lot of historical mysteries set in New England, for example, might be a history buff or have a real knack for solving mysteries by noticing all of the important clues early on.

I don’t make assumptions about why someone likes the things they do, but it is fun to ask them more about it and see what they have to say. You can learn so much about someone’s perspective by exploring the reasons why they think a specific genre is the best thing ever.

What Do They Value?

I have a few friends who absolutely love romance novels. Their appreciation for happy endings and everlasting love makes me smile. It’s also shown me sides of their personalities that I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

Most people don’t go walking around telling others that they believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, after all, but you might catch a glimpse of this part of their mind if you probe for deeper answers. There is always a reason why someone likes the things that they do. Those reasons won’t always be the key to an important part of their personality, but sometimes they can be.

What Are They Afraid Of?

This won’t apply to everyone, of course, but one of the reasons why I like talking to people who read horror, thrillers, and similar types of tales is that you can learn a lot about what people find scary based on what parts of these genres they find appealing.

I love being scared, but I hate blood and gore. The kinds of horror novels I relish are almost entirely about what’s going on in the main character’s mind instead of anything the villain is physically doing to frighten them. Is he or she genuinely seeing those horrifying things, or is there a rational explanation for their nighttime visitors? Is there anything the main character is holding back from us, or can we completely trust their perspective?

Do They Think You’d Like It?

Another reason why it’s is a good idea to ask questions instead of make assumptions about people’s tastes in books is that you might find a new author or series you really like.

As a writer, I’ve been noticing a lot of stories that cross over with many other genres. While I usually prefer darker and more serious science fiction, I have been impressed by how creative some of those crossovers are. It takes a lot of hard work to blend, say, a zombiepocalypse with an engaging love story, but a lot of people have been making it work in wonderful ways.

The more you talk to people who love genres or writers that aren’t your cup of tea, the higher your chances become of stumbling across something incredible. I hope you’ll keep these points in mind the next time you have a conversation with someone like this.