"The secret of being a bore is to tell everything."
Spoilers are our stock-in-trade here at All The Tropes -- you can't talk about stories and plots without revealing the details of said stories and plots, which might ruin the experience for people who haven't yet had the chance to view that work. To combat this, we have the spoiler tag, markup [[spoiler:some text]].
However, this in itself presents a problem. Virtually all examples are going to be spoilers to some extent, and we can't blank the entire wiki on the off chance that someone will be offended. One of the big draws of a site like this is simply browsing from one page to the next and absorbing the information therein, and that appeal is lessened if every interesting fact is lost to the fog of a spoiler tag. An example that reads something like this...
- Eddard Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. Despite being one of the few truly good characters of the series, his rigid code of honour and loyalty to his dead friend lead to his downfall.
...is virtually useless. If you haven't read the A Song of Ice and Fire series (or are only partway through), how do you react to that? It's completely useless as an example unless you read the spoiler. It's even worse when the spoiler goes for six or seven lines with no break to educate the uninformed. Sometimes this is necessary and there's no way around it, but not as often as people think. The spoiler tag allows people to half-ass their examples -- instead of planning out their writing so that the sensitive information is concealed, they can just drop any old stink-bomb they like and cover it with a spoiler. This makes things easier for them, but makes the wiki harder to read. Don't do it.
Therefore, you need to think for a bit before you slap something behind that wall. To that end, we offer the spoiler policy guidelines:
- No spoilers in the main body of the text, above the "Examples" line. Just don't do it.
- There are degrees of spoilage, from Twist Ending to It Was His Sled. You don't have to worry about every little plot point. If you don't want to read any spoilers at all, and want to go into every work as pure and unsullied as a virgin to her wedding bed, then it is strongly suggested you steer clear of a work's trope page until you have actually seen/read/heard the work, and read trope example pages while carefully skipping past works you are intending on enjoying in the future.
- Think about how the spoiler tag affects the reading of the example in particular and the entry in general. This varies, of course, but the rule of thumb is usually this: "If I dropped the spoilered part entirely, would the example have any value?" If not, you might want to reword it so that the spoiler-ific content is no longer present (thereby removing the need to use the tag), or delete the example entirely. If it's really needed, it's probably going into a surprise-oriented trope, which can be so noted and caveat emptor applies; otherwise, there's a good chance the spoiler details are not needed.
- On that subject, there are some tropes, particularly Death Tropes, Love Tropes, Betrayal Tropes, and Twist Endings (Tomato Surprise, All Just a Dream, etc.), in which all the examples are going to be spoilers just by their very nature. They're about surprises. On a work page it would obviously be fine to hide them, but doing so on the trope page doesn't help much. Just stick a general warning above the examples ("Here there be spoilers!") or ("All spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.") and move on. You don't need to be sensitive with spoilers here -- the reader knows what he's getting into, and any spoilage is their fault, not ours. Note that this only applies to those tropes where merely listing the title of a series would be a spoiler; don't abuse this blanket warning.
- Links to external stuff (such as plot-critical Web Comic pages, or a criticism by another site) shouldn't go directly to sensitive information without a warning.
- Qualified spoilers are also possible, especially for Long Runners and multiple-media franchises: "Spoilers for season two of Show X!" or "Spoilers for the manga of Anime Y!"
- Spoiling new stuff is generally frowned upon, but sticking an entire example behind a spoiler isn't much better. For internationally known series which have not been aired or legally released yet to their major secondary markets (some Anime, for example), go ahead and tag it -- once it's circulated enough that it's no longer a spoiler, Wiki Magic will do the rest.
- On the other hand, there's a definite statute of limitations on spoilers. There's no need to tag the Twist Ending to a Shakespeare play or a fifty-year-old film because Joe Average might not have gotten around to seeing it yet. A list of things officially free for spoiling is in Spoilers Off.
- If what you're covering in spoilers is four letters or less, bear in mind that people will probably be able to guess what you're talking about, especially in context. For example, saying that so-and-so dies -- what else could go in there? Frequently, the name of a main character, whom the audience isn't supposed to associate with the trope until The Reveal, will be too short for spoiler markup to conceal; writing out their full name or a whole half-sentence under the spoiler tag may work better.
- Make sure it's worth putting in spoiler tags. This is a spoiler: Bob kills Alice. This is not: Bob likes pie.
- Spoiler tagging the name of the work is worse than useless. If you do that, there's a special hell waiting for you.
- Some trope titles can be spoilers on their own, so they should be tagged as such. If there are so many of these that the all-white lines hurt the page's appearance, just collect them at the bottom of the page, under a new header. This also helps in further obscuring their content, that could be otherwise guessed from their alphabetic position between other, untagged trope titles.
- Spoiler tagging a pronoun is bad form. Yes, you want to hide the gender of the person in question, or it otherwise would be obvious, but do you really think it's impossible to see the difference between he and she? English language has a genderless pronoun: it's "they". There's debate as to whether it's grammatically correct, but it is still widely used, so you might as well use it, or rephrase.
- Consider how you structure the example; if you must provide material in spoiler tags and cannot get around it, then rather than scattering the spoiler material throughout the example (which is untidy and difficult to read), consider phrasing it so that a brief, non-spoilering summary or context of the example is followed with the spoiler-tagged material at the end; Something like this, for example. It looks neater and easier to read from an aesthetic viewpoint, there is sufficient context provided for those who don't want to view the spoiler to understand at a glance why the example belongs on the page, and all the spoilers are conveniently located together for anyone who wants to highlight them, while being easy to avoid for those who don't.
- Do not put a Pothole on the spoilered text if it would help to guess what the spoiler is about; hiding the fact that John Doe dies won't help much if the reader sees the URL address for Killed Off for Real at the bottom of the screen when casually mousing over the spoilered text.
- Don't tempt the reader, or leave clues in the specific thing spoiled. If you're saying "But it turns out the killer was Alice", don't put down "But it turns out the killer was Alice" Sometimes (for example) "Alice" is the only person with that short a name in the cast - thus making it obvious. Sometimes you're better off just covering up the whole sentence.
- Don't use spoiler text as the equivalent of putting something in parentheses.
But above all, use your own judgment. Spoilers are a touchy subject, but not all spoilers are created equal -- does the meat of your example really need to be concealed? Think about it. If it doesn't, it's probably annoying more people than it helps. Try to err on the side of more information: Incidental spoilage is an occupational hazard on a wiki like this one, and it's not going to kill anyone. Sticks and stones, right?
Good: Connor, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The son of two vampires, he was abducted as a baby and raised in a Hell Dimension by a fanatical demon hunter, eventually returning to Earth as a teenager. His memories are later replaced with an elaborate web of Fake Memories, allowing him to live an ordinary teenage life... until a demon tied to his past comes looking for him...
Please, God, End It Now: Connor, son of the vampire Angel and the vampire Darla, from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off TV series Angel. Child of two vampires (who supposedly cannot bear children) Connor was abducted as a baby and raised in a Hell Dimension by a fanatical demon hunter. When Connor returned to Earth as a teenager, he was a ruthless and feral fighter, with superhuman combat abilities similar to those of a Slayer (although he was male). When Connor was made to believe that his aging foster father had been murdererd by vampires, he went berserk. Even after Connor had been persuaded that Angel was on the side of Good, the boy never fit in on Earth. At the end of the series' 4th season, Angel struck a deal with the evil demon law firm Wolfram & Hart, asking them to alter the memories of Connor and Angel's friends, wiping out all memory of Connor's real past and superhuman combat abilities and constructing an elaborate web of Fake Memories, complete with a human foster family for Connor, allowing Angel's son to live a normal teenager's life. Until a demon from Angel's and Connor's past turned up and tried to kill Connor.
Good: To the unprepared, the Fanatics Tower in Final Fantasy VI can get annoying fast: long, no save points, very frequent Random Encounters, and only magic attacks allowed (by both sides) except if you berserk yourself. And at the end, the boss's dying attack is almost guaranteed to wipe out your party unless you happened to have learned Life 3 at this point or are willing to spend a long time draining his AP. If not, have fun traversing up the staircases all over again! (Possessing a hidden item that eliminates random encounters makes this area drastically faster.)
So Horrible I Think It Gave Me Cancer: Odds are, playing through Final Fantasy VI for the first time, you will come to despise the Fanatics Tower. It's not too bad if you're prepared for what's coming, but unless you're consulting a walkthrough or strategy guide, it will get you. The Tower itself is highly uninteresting in terms of layout, consisting only of a climb up innumerable staircases with the odd treasure room and many, many Random Encounters. Adding to this difficulty, one can only fight with magic in this tower, and cannot attack normally (unless berserked, in which case it's all a person can do) nor use special abilities. The enemies similarly attack only with magic, making Wall Rings or constant Reflect spells a must. After fighting your way up this tower, you will fight the boss, who will put up a fairly tough fight, but far from an impossible one... until he dies. When that happens, he delivers a parting shot: Ultima, one of the most powerful spells in the game. Odds are very good you won't survive this, and if you're not prepared with Life 3 or a helluva lot of levels, you will die from this. Since there are no save points in the tower, you will have to start the long ascent all over again! Congratulations! You've just wasted the last x number of hours of your life! Try again! However, there IS an easier way to get through the tower, if you're psychic enough to know that when you locate a character and get him to rejoin your party, the spot he was standing on has a somewhat Game Breaking item that will eliminate random encounters, making the hours-long climb take mere minutes instead. But again, you have to somehow know that this item is there despite no obvious signs of it at all ever anywhere within the game.
See also Self Fulfilling Spoiler.
Even though the supersecretspoiler tag has been removed, you can just use white text if you feel it's really necessary, though. Note that this will not show up even if you have your profile set to always show spoilers, and most people won't even know it's there, so use it very sparingly.