How to Create a Picture Book Dummy

Snip, tape, edit and sketch. Yesterday I dummied a picture book. If you write picture books but have never dummies your work before, you really should. I dummy allows you to test out your work. You check to see if you have enough story to fill every spread. You may also discover that you story is far too complicated.

A dummy also helps you to see if you’ve made use of page turns. A page turn helps you conceal a surprise from the reader. Page turns are really useful when something is funny or shocking. A dummy really helps you make use of the picture book’s unique structure.

Each spread needs to be a unique scene. There has to be something for the illustrator to depict.

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 gives you 32 pages front and back. You can use half pages or quarter pages. Whatever works for you. For this one I used half pages.

Mark off title page, etc.

End papers and the title page 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.  

Next, cut your 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.

This time around, I was trying to figure out how to squeeze it all in (all I needed was one more two page spread) when I realized that two pages of my dummy had stuck together. Also, remember that it is natural for this step to take multiple attempts.

Once you’ve got your text in place, look at each spread. Think of it as a scene. You may need to change a word or two. There may be something you can cut. This might also be where you note that something doesn’t flow or that your verbs or your action needs to be more dramatic.

It is far better to figure these things out for yourself then to have someone else point it out to you. Now off to make my story sound more like a picture book.


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