EVENTS How to make your voice heard


How do you make yourself heard among all the other voices in children's literature? Hazel Knox reports on a SCBWI Scotland workshop with Amy Sparkes.

Having been on the receiving end of the dreaded, 'It’s a bit quiet' feedback, I jumped at the chance to attend Amy Sparkes’ online session, organised by SCBWI Scotland, exploring that very topic. Going to a workshop run by Amy is like being caught in a creative shower. Some drops of wisdom take a while to soak in and others hit you straight in the face. There was a lot to absorb but I didn’t put my umbrella up once. 

It’s a competitive world out there and it’s up to you to make your story stand out as much as possible, by making it as individual and engaging as you can. 'A bit quiet' is another way of saying it has limited impact. It could be the gatekeeper isn’t convinced by or connecting with your work. Perhaps they don’t think it’s individual enough or aren’t moved by your story. Your words just aren’t singing to them. So how do you maximise impact and avoid these ‘quiet’ issues? 

This can be harder to do with rhyming stories, real-world stories and stories that are meant to be quiet, like bedtime or emotional stories, because of the restrictions around them. But there’s still lots you can do:

  • Write what you’re passionate about. The more of you that’s in a manuscript, the more genuine and authentic it will be, and therefore the greater impact it will have.

[Picture credit: Hazel Knox]

  • You’re more likely to write confidently if it’s a subject/theme you have a connection to and a confident writer has a stronger voice and carries the reader with them.
  • Know your story inside out. What genre does it fit into? What themes do you explore? What’s the tone? What effect do you want to have on the reader, overall and at different beats throughout the manuscript? The better you know your story the more you can fine-tune it to deliver, push its boundaries, and make it sing.
  • Take it to the max. Commit 100%. If you’re writing a funny book, make it really funny. If it’s an adventure, pack it full of excitement and peril. Part of this is identifying what aspect of your story is most important. Then focusing your energy on ensuring that feature stands out enough to make an impact. 
  • Are you doing all you can? With every moment — right down to sentence structure and word choice? Pay particular attention to page turns, chapter beginnings and endings. Your job is to hook and keep the reader so they can’t stop reading.
  • TIP: Read your manuscript when you’re tired. Are there sections you find yourself skipping?

Be bold in your creative choices

  • Individuality is key. Familiar scenarios make readers, especially gatekeepers, glaze over. Again, the more of yourself you put into a manuscript the more likely it is to be original. Push character voices to make them as distinctive and different from each other as possible. You can always tone it down if you go too far. And you probably won’t.
  • Emotional connection = impact. This was my biggest takeaway and where I think I can delve deeper and make my books sing louder. If you make the reader care about what happens to your characters then it’s not a quiet story. 
  • What do you want your reader to feel at different points in the book? Think about the emotional tone you want to set with the opening lines. Consider key moments carefully. Make sure those really stand out; you want to stop the reader in their tracks. 
  • What emotion are you aiming for as the reader finishes the last line of your book? This will be the feeling you leave them with. Some people find it helpful to track or grade the emotion throughout their story.

People don't forget feelings


  • Think about your own emotional relationship with the story you’re writing — the stronger the connection, the louder your words will sing from the page.

[Picture credit: Hazel Knox]

*Header image: courtesy of Hazel Knox


Hazel Knox writes middle grade and chapter books and is the winner of the Scottish Book Trust 2021 New Writers Award. When she's not buried in a manuscript she's a children's occupational therapist. Find her on Twitter @hazel_knox.


Stephanie Cotela is the new Network News Editor for Words & Pictures magazine.

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