One Writer’s Journey

January 16, 2014

How to make a Dummy

DummyOne of the most useful tools in rewriting a picture book is the dummy.   A dummy is a picture book mockup that lets you examine your text in the unique format of the picture book (32 pages, 16 spreads).  Don’t know how to make a dummy?  No worries.  Just follow these simple steps.

  1. Staple together 16 pieces of paper.  This gives you 32 pages front and back.
  2. Mark off the title page and other front matter.  There are generally about three pages at the beginning of a picture book that the title and other material but no story.
  3. Print your manuscript and cut it 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 and illustration.
  4. Tape the spreads into the mock up.

Don’t be discouraged as you try to make this work.  The whole point of a dummy is to help you see how you need to rewrite your picture book.  Here are some things to look for:

Number of scenes.  If your text doesn’t fill the dummy, you may need to add scenes.  Or you may find that you have too many scenes and need to cut.

Two-page vs one-page spreads.  If you have given a scene two spreads, does the scene demand this panoramic scope?  One-page spreads, on the other hand, are great for showing detail or for when the story is moving fast.

Change spread-to-spread.  Does each spread differ in some way from the surrounding spreads?  This can be a change setting, characters present, emotion or action.  One change is good.  Two or three are even better.

Talking heads.  Too much dialogue can mean that the illustrator will have nothing to show but talking heads.   Hint:  This is bad.  Make sure there is action for the illustrator to depict.

Page turns.  Does your text take advantage of page turns?  Page turns are great for hiding surprises and creating suspense and the best picture book authors take advantage of the opportunities this offers.

Text heavy spreads.  While you don’t need the same number of words for each spread, look out for spreads that are significantly longer than the others.  Do you have a lot of visual description?  Some of it can probably go because visual details belong to the illustrator.  Also, look for wordy phrasing and tighten wherever possible.

One thing that I like about working with a dummy — it allows me to evaluate my text a few lines at a time (my topic for tomorrow).



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