Mysteries without mystery
Have you ever been tempted to flip to the end of a mystery novel? Go ahead. Suspense, a new study has found, is irrelevant to our enjoyment of a story. In fact, say researchers at the University of California at San Diego, most people like stories more if they know in advance how they end--even with plots that hinge on a mystery or a twist. The researchers set up different versions of 12 short stories written by authors such as Agatha Christie, Raymond Carver, and Anton Chekhov. One came with an introduction that spoiled the ending; one had a spoiler embedded in the middle of the text; and a third appeared just as its author had written it. Surprisingly, readers who learned the endings of their stories up front reported liking them much more on a scale of one to 10 than did readers of the other two versions. Why? The pleasure readers get from a good story, researcher Jonathan Leavitt tells BBCNews.com, has far more to do with the quality of the writing and character development than with a nail-biting plot. Once a reader knows how a story turns out, Leavitt says, he or she "can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."
Interesting! That was my experience with the final Harry Potter book. I enjoyed reading it a second time far more than I liked the first time. On the reread, I knew how it would turn out, so instead of worrying about the fate of Harry, Hermione, Ron, or Hagrid, I could just focus on the writing and the interactions between the characters.
The UC-San Diego study seems to contradict what so many New York editors say they want: a "high-concept" (i.e., gimmicky) plot. What readers really want may be good writing. But many times I have witnessed the NY crowd treating the quality of the writing as irrelevant, while looking for nothing in a story except a tricky or "commercial" plot or gimmick.
Food for thought!
The complete article at BBC News: