Surprise Vs suspense

Another thing that got me thinking about Season 3 of Westworld was that the storytelling was setup for a series of dramatic reveals. The problem was that without feeling engaged with any of the characters (because insufficient time had been given to their emotional world and/or none of them was really likeable) it was hard to care. The dramatic reversals and revelations fell flat.

One of the striking things about genre fiction is the efficient way in which writers literally tell us why we should empathise with the main character… because they were treated unfairly, because they experienced injustice, because they struggled while others found life easy, because they were a woman in a man’s world, because they did not fit in, etc. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is an outstanding example of this — if you don’t feel for Jane in the first two chapters, there’s something wrong with you.

The problem for the writer is that he or she has to make choices about how much they reveal about a character or the situation they’re in. What’s more interesting — the surprise of a reveal, or the audience knowing that different characters have conflicting objectives and watching those conflicts play out?