Chapter 17 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul deals with making a picture book dummy. No, you don’t have to be an illustrator. Yes, you can draw stick figures. A good dummy doesn’t have to be a work of art and no one else ever has to see it. But as a writer, it can tell you so much about what works and doesn’t work in your story. I have found that the act of chopping up the text and deciding what will go on which page helps me to see:
- where my story’s pacing needs to change (usually I need to move things along more quickly, occasionally I need to slow things down)
- whether I am using page turns effectively
- how much text I have on each page — fine to have different amounts but if I can’t fit the text on a page in my dummy, that’s a clue that I need to cut
- on what pages the important moments of my story will happen, and whether this matches my picture book map
- whether something “new” is happening on each page (which was discussed way back in chapter 1)
- whether I’m using language consistently throughout the book (for example, if I use a bunch of sound words at the beginning, do I also use some in the middle and at the end)
- other stuff I’m sure I am forgetting right now
While the discussion about making a dummy comes toward the end of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, I usually make a dummy fairly early in the process, after I have a solid first draft with a beginning, middle, and end. Below are two different ways I make a picture book dummy.
A Notebook Dummy
This is simply 16 sheets of paper in a looseleaf notebook. This gives me enough room to draw my little stick figures and write the text. Theoretically, I could easily adjust this dummy by replacing just one sheet of paper rather than having to redo the whole book to make a small change.
The notebook dummy is nice because it forces me to think about the pictures, and how the images on each spread will be different from one another. It’s not my favorite, though.
A Folded Dummy
I make these small folded dummies out of four sheets of paper cut in half vertically and then folded together. I then copy the text of my story into an empty word processing file. I increase the font size to about 18, and then I print the document with a layout of 2 pages per sheet. The resulting text is small, but still readable. I then use scissors to cut the text into spreads, and tape it onto the pages of my folded dummy.
I don’t usually bother to draw the illustrations on these dummies because at this point I have a good idea of what I want to see on each page. This is more about working with the text.
The thing I love most about these little dummies is that I can carry them around in my bag or even my pocket. Sitting around at the dentist’s office, at baseball practice, at gymnastics class, becomes productive thinking and writing time.
Do you make dummies for your stories, and if so how do you make them?