Picture Book Writing, or Why We Dummy Our Work

Earlier this week, I read an awesome blog post by Tara Lazar, Don’t Sweat the Page Breaks…  In her post, she discusses why we dummy our work. In short, a picture book is a very definite thing. You aren’t just writing a cohesive story. You are writing something with just the write number of page turns to be a picture book. The dummy is the tool that you use to help you internalize that structure.

But what if you’ve never created a dummy? Here is how I do it.

Staple together 16 pieces of paper.  

Wait a minute. Isn’t a picture book 32 pages long. Yes, it is. But 16 pages stapled together tives you 32 pages front and back. You can use half pages or quarter pages. Whatever. I use full sheets of paper because this makes it easier to fit my text on to the page.

A dummy I used to edit my work.
Some spreads hardly change.

Mark off my title page, etc.

These pages generally don’t contain any of your actual story.  There are generally three such pages at the beginning of a picture book. Sometimes the copyright info is on a page at the back of the book.

If this ambiguity makes you uncomfortable, look at some picture books from your dream publisher. Do it how they do it.

Cut my text into blocks.  

These blocks of text will become spreads. Some will be one page spreads. A one page spread is a single page with text and an illustration. It stands independent of the preceding and following pages. Some text blocks will become two page spreads. Two page spreads are one block of text and the accompanying illustration that takes up two facing pages.  

One page spreads are often detailed. They are close ups.

Two page spreads are panoramic. They slow down the pace of the story.

Tape the spreads into the dummy.

I’d love to say that this step is easy peasy. That would be a lie.

Sometimes I have more blocks of text than I have dummy pages. I have to ask myself if each scene is essential. Or is there a scene that can be cut?

Sometimes I run out of blocks of text before I reach the end of the dummy. Have I left scenes out? Or it might be that there isn’t enough story for a picture books. Or I might need to add another attempt to solve my story problem.

Just remember that it is natural for this step to take multiple attempts. And, in the end, the way you dummy it might not be how the editor sees it. That’s why Lazar called her post Don’t Sweat the Page Breaks…


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