Dummying Your Picture Book Manuscript

Once I have a solid draft of my picture book manuscript, it is time to dummy my work.  I’ve mentioned dummying recently and Sharon asked how I dummy a manuscript.  Here are the steps I use to create this picture book  mock up.

  1. Staple together 16 pieces of paper.  This gives me 32 pages front and back.
  2. Mark off my title page, etc — the pages that will not contain actual story.  There are generally three such pages at the beginning of a picture book.
  3. Cut apart my text into individual spreads.  Some will become two page spreads — one block of text that takes up two facing pages.  Others will become one page spreads — a single page with text that stands independent of the preceding and following pages.
  4. Tape the spreads into the mock up.
The story board that I keep in my office.

Sometimes when I get to the end of the manuscript, I discover that I have spreads left over.  Then it is time to evaluate my story — does each scene further the plot?  Or is there a scene that can be cut?

Sometimes I discover that I don’t have enough spreads.  Maybe this piece makes a better magazine story.  Or I might need to add another attempt to solve my story problem.

Don’t be discouraged as you try to make this work.  It never fits exactly right on the first try.  If I’m having troubles making it work, I may storyboard the piece.  A storyboard shows all of the spreads on a single page.  That way I know what scene fits where and I can then duplicate this in a dummy.

Why would I still dummy my work after putting together the storyboard?

Because a storyboard and a dummy do slightly different things.  The storyboard assures that I have a workable number of scenes and that things take place at a manageable pace.

Some spreads are hardly changed.

When I mock up a dummy book, I am looking at the details.

  • If I have a two-page spread, does the scene demand this panoramic scope?
  • One-page spreads are great for showing detail.
  • Does this spread differ in some way from the surrounding spreads?  It can be a change in setting, which characters are present, emotion or action.
  • Does this spread have a specific action for the illustrator to depict?
  • Do I avoid dialog with no accompanying action?  Talking heads make for boring illustrations.
  • Does my text take advantage of page turns?  Page turns are great for hiding surprises.

A dummy also forces me to look at the actual text one spread at a time.

  • Is my text as tight as it can be?
  • Are some spreads text heavy?  This is another reason to cut.
  • Do I use a lot of visual description?  Some of it can probably go.
  • Do I use good picture book language?  This is a good time to check for lyrical language, repeats, onomatopoeia, etc.

Sure, I could do this without a dummy, but a dummy helps me envision my work as the picture book it will one day become.  It also helps me slow down and work with only small portions of the text, giving every word the attention it deserves.

Why not try using this technique with your own work?