At our SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Conference last weekend, several speakers recommended making a picture book dummy before submitting a manuscript. For many years, I resisted the advice I heard about tackling such a project. At first, I thought “dummy” meant one of those pages of little boxes that illustrators use to create storyboards. I’m not an illustrator, so I couldn’t see the point. I could never fit all my text into those teensy little squares!
“How to Make a Storyboard, An Illustrated Tutorial” from Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz provides an example of that kind of dummy.
Now that I know the difference, I imagine it might help a writer to jot a brief note about what happens in each scene to visualize pacing and be sure there is enough illustration potential. But I’m talking about a different thing altogether. So let me make the distinction between an illustration dummy and a text dummy. Writers can do themselves a big favor by creating a text dummy on plain paper.
I started with 8 sheets of paper cut in half. I stapled them along one short side to make a 32-page dummy. I printed a copy of my manuscript and cut it into chunks.
Each chunk of text that describes a scene and/or creates a potential illustration can take up a page or even a whole spread in a picture book. That’s what you cut out and paste onto the dummy. Then you look at it with an eye to page turns, pacing, and amount of text per page. Even with the understanding that the final book could look completely different, it’s a worthwhile exercise. The concrete visual format makes problems easier to spot.
I found two good sources for text dummy info:
- Darcy Pattison’s blog post, “How to Mock-up a Picture Book,” explains why making a dummy is a good idea and gives detailed instructions on how to make one. Helpful tips explain how to use the dummy to revise a manuscript.
- Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul includes a chapter called “Cut and Paste—Making a Dummy Book.” She specifies three kinds of story changes that create reasons to change the page. She then lists ten important questions to ask when evaluating the text.
Making a text dummy of my work in progress showed me several good reasons to revise. Trying to paste the text in place made me realize that the story had too many scenes for potential illustrations. In addition, some chunks of text were too long to fit on a page. Time to cut!
So try it! Make a text dummy of your picture book manuscript. It certainly helped mine!
Thank you, SCBWI!
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