Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Be Smart - Use a Dummy! by Patricia Toht

Are you a picture book writer? If so, you need a dummy.
No, not this!






No, Brits, not this either!

A picture book dummy. Illustrators make great use of them – sixteen sheets, clipped together, that help to plan the layout of a book. (Check out Uri Shulevitz here or Brian Selznick at Tina Burke's blog.)

But I’m a word girl. Stick figures are the height of my artistic ability. 


I’m not keen with scissors or rubber cement, either. So I use a “down and dirty dummy” or DDD.

Here’s how I do it (VERY little skill involved):

Take a blank piece of paper.
Fold in half, long edge to long edge. Fold in half again.
Open the paper up. (You'll have three creases lengthwise.)
Now fold short edge to short edge. Fold again. And again.
Open up. (You’ve added seven creases crosswise.)
Your paper now has 32 little boxes. (Most picture books have 32 pages).
Add page numbers.
Mark each spread.
VoilĂ ! There’s the DDD.


(I've inked in the crease marks, so you can see them.)

Sometimes I use a DDD to study a book that I like, noting where the problem occurs, three-part movements, clever use of illustrations, etc.

My study of The Little Old Lady Who was Not Afraid of Anything,
by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Mostly, I use a DDD for laying out my own text.

In the US, the first few pages are business-y stuff, so X those out. That leaves 14 to 14 ½ spreads. (When I lived in the UK, I had to fit text into 12 spreads – TWO fewer! Yikes! See Tara Lazar's explanation of the different treatment of end pages.)

Next, add story. Don’t write down every word, just enough to know what falls on each page.

Erase and try again and again, until you get everything to fit.

Then return to your typed manuscript and mark the page breaks.

Now what?

Here are some things I look for:
• Will there be a variety of illustrations? No variety = BORING!
• What text could be cut because it will be shown in the pictures? Leave room for the illustrator!
• Still too many words on a page? Tighten!
• Do key parts of the story happen in the right places? Check out this great post by Miranda Paul on pacing.
• Is the reader encouraged to read on? Pop those page turns!
• Are the words on each spread perfect for that spread?



This practice is one of the best things I’ve done to improve my picture books. I now use a DDD for every PB I work on – fiction, nonfiction, and even poetry collections. 

Give one a try!

44 comments:

  1. I like your dummy! I've never seen one that uses only ONE piece of paper. Thanks!

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  2. sitting here folding paper and I am not good at origami either but I think I can manage this :) thanks for the DDD

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    1. I love origami. Maybe we should call this a "gami dummy," Cecilia!

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  3. Dummy! Yes!!! Thank you for this post.

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    1. Your welcome, Mona. I hope its helpful for you.

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  4. Patty, lovely post. I really like the idea of using this to study other books as well. I often retype the text of my favorite books to see how the pacing and breaks are done. This is a very cool new tool for me to use in the process as well. Many thanks!

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    1. Retyping favorite books is a great tool to use, Todd. I do that, too!

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  5. I like the idea of using a dummy to see where my words will fall on the pages and to imagine what the illustrations will look like. I will try this with one of my newly-revised manuscripts. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. I've made dummies--they definitely help to create suspense in picture books and show where the pages should be turned!

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    1. I agree! For me, it's worth the time to do one.

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  7. I like to make individual pages so I can shuffle them around. Post-It notes work well too!

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    1. I've tried individual pages, Cathy, but lose track of the spreads. Any tips?

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    2. Pinning them up on a big board or lying them out on the floor works. I take photos of various combos so I can refer back to them. HTH!

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  8. Great post, Patty! I'd never made a dummy until last November at our annual conference - I really didn't think it would help. Boy, was I wrong! I couldn't believe how it helped me cut words and improve pacing! I don't think I'll submit another manuscript without first doing a dummy.

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  9. Helpful information to new and veteran writers alike. We can look at our manuscripts in a new way by using this helpful information to create a dummy - and fix the flow of our text. Thank you!

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  10. This one page dummy is fantastic, Patricia. Definitely a lot easier to work with before doing a flip book. Great post!

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    1. Definitely easier, although I bet your flip books are great, Donna.

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  11. Great post, thanks, I'm going to do a DDD today!

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  12. I'm doing this tonight!! Thanks so much!

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  13. I like to test the page turns - using that removable double sided tape lets you move your text around. I think the 1 page method would be great for initial planning.
    thanks for the post!

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    1. I love hearing about everyone's methods. Thanks for sharing, Beth!

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  14. Love the D to the 3rd power treatment. It has never occurred to me to use a dummy for books that I love in examining pace and structure. Man, common sense is a valuable tool 'eh? This blog is packed full with a fresh and strong brand of common sense. I am so glad I stopped by. TOTALLY need to begin doing this right away. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

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    1. We're all in this writing thing together. :) Thanks for stopping in, Pam!

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  15. Clever, fun & well-illustrated (by funny you!) tidy essay here Pat! (Do you like Patty or Pat?) LOVE it! As a DDD maker myself, I always have trouble with them but end up perservering as it's too important not to. I wonder where the word "dummy" comes from for this particular tool? It seems too important a p.b. process step, to have such an inglorious moniker.
    Thank you for the nifty Tara Lazar to Brian video link.
    And for the Uri Shulevitz link, too.
    Expect to come back & learn also from the Miranda Paul pacing one.
    Gotta gotta scoot!!!!

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    1. Thanks, Jan! I take either Pat or Patty. I come from a big family and was called the wrong name so often that I'll also answer to Marie, Kathy, Tom, Jeanne, Jim, Mary or even Penny (the dog's name).
      I have no idea of where the name 'dummy' comes from. Would be interesting to find out!

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  16. Excellent post, Pat. Everyday I learn and grow with my GROG friends. Thank you for sharing. ~Suzy

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  17. Thank you Patricia. I especially find the photo examples helpful. I have never tried making a book dummy but I think this will help me a lot!

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    1. The folding instructions were pretty crazy - I'm glad a photo could help. :) Good luck with your dummy and thanks for stopping by!

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  18. I love your 1 page DDD! I will use this technique with my next picture book...so simple yet effective! Thx for sharing this great tip and for all the GROG information!

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    1. Thanks, Angie! Good luck with your DDD.

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  19. Now this is the PERFECT dummy when you are sitting in the car, waiting for your hubby to come out of a sporting goods store...one piece of paper and you can plan an entire story!!! Thanks so much Patricia!

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    1. You're welcome, Vivian. I hope you also have a tasty cup of coffee and pastry to keep you company while you are waiting, too. :)

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