Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Making a Picture Book Dummy


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.

dummy1         dummyopen

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?

13 thoughts on “Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Making a Picture Book Dummy

    • Carrie Finison says:

      You should try it! The folded one is simple and doesn’t take too long to make. And I LOVE how portable it is. I don’t even staple it together — it usually holds together well enough on its own.

  1. Cathy Ballou Mealey says:

    I usually buy a stack of spiral notebooks during the 1 cent “Back-To-School” promotion at Staples and use those for my dummies, pasting in strips of text that I’ve printed out on my computer. There’s something about the size of the notebook mirroring the size of a picture book that seems to work for me, although I really like the portability of your versions!

  2. Romelle Broas says:

    Making a book dummy is always recommended, but I seldom make the effort to fold pieces of paper. Instead, I separate my text into paragraphs with page numbers. I think in pictures in my head so I still visualize my dummy with page turns in my head. I remind myself that the odd pages need to be worthy of page turns. Works for me but I don’t recommend it. Only few people visualize the way I do.

    • Carrie Finison says:

      I do that too, Romelle. Usually after I make the dummy, I go back and copy the page numbers into my manuscript document. From then on, my working version of the manuscript has page spreads indicated, though I don’t send it out that way. It helps a lot to have those page numbers marked down, though.

    • Carrie Finison says:

      I do the same thing, BJ, but there is something really different for me about getting it out of my head and working with my hands. It just helps me see things from a slightly different perspective.

  3. Donna L. Sadd says:

    I can see how making a dummy of the story really would help to point out holes, excess words, and whether it ‘moves’ along. I just finalized a rhyming story, and I’m going to finally give it a go. Thanks, Carrie. :0)

  4. viviankirkfield says:

    Thanks so much for showing how you make two different dummies, Carrie! I’ve made a couple..usually tiny pieces of paper, so small it is ridiculous. I am going to use your notebook idea…as well as the paper folded in four. I think it will help me to see, as you say, if the story needs to move more quickly or get slowed down. 🙂

  5. hethfeth says:

    This is great. Thanks so much for walking us through the process. Seeing your examples and knowing just how you print and cut, the point size, and so forth, really helps.

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