by Jean Daigneau and Gloria G. Adams
Wait-aren’t picture book dummies just for picture book
illustrators? No, not really.
Smart picture book writers know that a picture book dummy can be one of the best tools in an author’s toolbox. If you’re not familiar with the term, picture book dummy templates lay out the pages of a picture book in numbered spreads so that you can fill in each page with the text and ilustrations of your manuscript. But even without the illustrations, laying out the text can often make your story better. Remember, too, these dummies are not to send to a publisher; they are an exercise vehicle to make your manuscript the best it can be.
Here are five good reasons why you might consider making use of a dummy template
for your next picture book project.
1. To make sure you have enough text to fill in all the spreads. Standard picture books are 32 pages long. The first 2-3 pages make up the title page, copyright and dedication page. The text will not begin until either page 3 or page 4. Most stories are twelve or fourteen spreads long. Your final pages might contain back matter about the subject of your book, glossaries, bibliographies, acknowledgements, or information about the author and/or illustrator. Make sure you have enough pages for your back matter.
2. To make sure you have enough opportunities on each page for the illustrator to draw something. For each spread, determine if there is something that needs to be illustrated or that can be illustrated. If there’s no action or nothing new to illustrate, maybe this text isn’t necessary to your story. This can be especially true if the scene centers on dialogue.
3. To make sure you have enough white space on each spread. Is your text taking up too much room? Have you left room for illustrations? This is a good way to see how you might cut down on your word count.
4. To determine where the page turns should fall. For example, if you have a repetitive phrase, it’s best to have it follow a page turn. This sets up anticipation for the young reader.
In One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root, each spread ends with the duck asking, “Help, help, who can help?” The next page begins with “We can! We can!” answered by different animals.
5. For pacing. Is your plot laid out evenly? Does the climax happen one or two spreads too soon? Try rearranging your text to see what works most effectively.
The best way to know how to lay out picture book text is to study how published picture books are laid out. After you’ve examined a LOT of picture books, try filling out a picture book dummy for your manuscript. You can make a physical one the size of a picture book, or you can fill in a template. Either way, taking the time to do this task is worth it.
It can also be helpful to copy the text of a published picture book into a dummy template. Seeing the words, without the illustrations, can give an author a stronger sense of how text carries the story and lays out on the page.
A great source for a personal use picture book dummy template is Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s website:
We often recommend the use of picture book dummies to our clients at Two-4-One Kid Critiques. Check out our website: https://two4onekidcritiques.wixsite.com/mysite