I had an interesting experience a few years ago that taught me a lot about writing for an audience that may be hostile to what you're saying. 

In college, I read the Prelude to Glory series by Ron Carter, which follows a family from the American Revolution to the War of 1812. In the early books, several characters serve under Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island and during the Saratoga campaign. 

Now, if you know anything about early American history, you might think of Benedict Arnold as synonymous with traitor. And there's a lot of truth to that. During the war, Arnold tried to hand over an important American fort to the British and later fought for them. 

So when I first encountered Arnold as a character in the books, I was deeply suspicious of him. But the more I read, the more I realized that there was a lot more to his story than I'd learned in history classes. In fact, I came to admire him for his courage and persistence during the early part of the Revolution. Simultaneously, I came to loathe the politicians who treated him so poorly after all his sacrifices. Though I can never condone what Arnold ultimately chose to do, I can sympathize with his disillusionment and frustration. 

Like Ron Carter writing to an audience that generally thinks of Arnold as 100-percent villain, I think every author will eventually have to write to a hostile or suspicious audience. Maybe you're writing (fiction or nonfiction) about a divisive topic, such as immigration or gun control. Maybe you're creating an ad that encourages people to switch from a popular brand to a new brand. Whatever the specifics of your situation, your writing will be much more successful if you can find common ground with the audience right away. If you immediately state a controversial thesis or viewpoint (e.g., "The US should deport all undocumented immigrants" or "This toothpaste that you've loved for years is garbage"), the audience's internal defenses go up, and they're much less likely to keep reading and/or change their minds.

I learned this technique in one of my classes around the same time I was reading Prelude to Glory. A few years later, I used both experiences to write a screenplay that incorporates parts of Arnold's story. However, given that it had taken me several books to warm up to Arnold, I decided to use a different strategy than Carter. Instead of putting the segments about Arnold in chronological order, I put them in reverse, starting with his betrayal and working backward to the point of his highest heroism during the Saratoga campaign. Effectively, I wanted to counteract the audience's mistrust right away by first showing them what they'd expect to see—the traitor—and then slowly turning that idea on its head.

Considering that that screenplay helped get me into a graduate program for screenwriting (a story for another time), I must have done something right. 😁

Still, no matter how you slice it, writing for a hostile or skeptical audience can be intimidating. It's not easy, but it's possible. If you'd like some help figuring out the best way to reach your readers, click here to schedule a time for you and me to work on it together.

Write on,


(Thanks to Curioso Photography for sharing their work on Unsplash.)