How to make a picture book dummy

DummySince I’m in a bit of a picture book groove, I thought I’d do another post on that this week.  This time I’m writing about a revision tool — the dummy.  Just because you’ve made a story board doesn’t mean that you can skip the dummy.

When I make a dummy, I am looking at the details.

  • If I have a two-page spread, does the scene demand this panoramic scope?
  • If I have a one-page spread, is there the detail it demands?
  • Does this spread differ in some way from the surrounding spreads? This difference 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.

In addition to helping me see if my text works within the picture book structure, a dummy also forces me to look at the actual text one spread at a time.  It helps me slow down and take my time as I go through the rewrite process.  Here are some of the things that I consider:

  • Is my text as tight as it can be?  If not, cut, cut, cut.
  • Are some spreads text heavy?  There should be balance.  I don’t want most spreads to have 2 or 3 lines and another to have 8.  If this happens . . . cut, cut, 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.

To make a dummy staple together 16 pieces of paper so that you have 32 pages front and back.  Then mark off one page for the title page and other front matter.  There are generally about three pages at the beginning of a picture book that contain the title and other material but no story.  Once you have this, you are ready to print out your text and lay it out in the dummy.  Do that and you’re ready to rewrite.

Why not try this technique with your own work?