Knowledge Base » Picture Books » How to Make a Picture Book Dummy


How to Make a Picture Book Dummy

When I get stuck revising a picture book manuscript, the best tool I found to give me a fresh look at the story is a dummy. A mock up book, that is.

Picture books are about spare text, scene changes, a turning point, and page turners. When you physically lay out a book, you can see if your story is fulfilling these requirements. And you’ll be able to cut out the excess.

To get an overview of what a dummy’s structure, have a look at this example.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a dummy:

  • 8 blank sheets of 8-1/2”x11” white paper
  • removable double-sided tape
  • scissors
  • a pencil
  • a print out of your manuscript.


Stack your paper and turn the pile horizontally then folded it in half so that you have the cut edges on the right side. Number the pages. Picture books are typically 32 pages long.

Leave the first three pages for title page, publisher copyright information, and dedication, and start on page 4.

Now cut out strips of text from your manuscript and tape them onto the pages. (It’ll be sloppy and the text paper will stick out, but this is just for placement.) As you start laying your text out, think about what text should be grouped together on one page or moved to the next page instead.

Could you divide the dialog between two characters on two pages? For instance:

“Look at me!” said baby monkey, swinging from a branch.

“Get down,” said mother monkey.

One page could show the baby monkey swinging and the next page could show a mad mamma monkey.

Are you describing two actions that take place in two different scenes? For instance:

Lori visited the Statue of Liberty. Then she went to an art museum.

You could divide these two actions between two pages, or show a vignette on one page instead.

The page turners are most important. These are the sentences that leave the reader wondering what’s next such as:

Sam looked under the table. He looked in his dresser drawer. He checked under the rug. Then he opened his closet door.

When the reader turns the page, the answer to what’s behind the closet door is revealed. Page turners should be on the right side so that when a reader is done reading, he turns the page. Are your “what next?” moments on the right side? If not, move them.

I also like to put what I call “ut-oh” moments on the right page. Consider this sequence:

“You may begin,” said the piano teacher.

Luanne pounded the keys. She sang at the top of her lungs. Then she stood on the bench and played the piano with her toes.

“I quit!” shouted the piano teacher.

Here’s where the reader would say “ut-oh” and wonder if Luanne is going to be in trouble. She would turn the page to find out.

Once you have your pages laid out, this is a good time to check the overall density of the text. Do some pages have way more text than others? If so, could some sentences be cut, or moved to the next page? Do you come up with extra text and no more pages to tape it on? Then your story is too long.

Extra blank pages at the end and your story is too short. You may need to stretch out the text by creating dramatic double-page spreads instead of confining the climax or turning point to one page.

If your text is too short, you may also want to consider adding end notes such as a recipe, an activity, a glossary or something that would enhance the story and its topic. But don’t add it just because you have space. It needs to be there for a good reason.

Another thing to do with your dummy is to check for excess words and sentences.

Let’s revisit the lines above about the monkey. If you already established in an earlier page that the baby monkey had swung out on a branch, you could edit “swinging from a branch” since the illustration would show it.

Here’s another good place to edit:
“I’ve got an idea how to make that clock work,” said mouse.
“What is it?” asked parrot.
Mouse found a screwdriver. He opened the back of the clock.

Cut the second sentence since it doesn’t add to the story and slows the pace down. If mouse jumps right into his solution, then you can pick up your story’s pace and answer the question in the reader’s head, “What is it?”

So it would be:

“I’ve got an idea how to make that clock work,” said mouse. (This causes the reader to think, “What is it?” so he turns the page.)
Mouse found a screwdriver. He opened the back of the clock.

I hope these tips helped you look at your manuscript with an editor’s and an artist’s eye so that you can cut out the unnecessary words and improve clarity and pacing.

Be smart. Make a dummy.





Natasha Wing has been writing children’s books for 20 years and has published nearly 30 books with more on the way. She is best known for her Night Before series that puts a twist on The Night Before Christmas. The Night Before Kindergarten has sold more than 1 million copies. Her books have been featured on best-seller lists, state school reading lists, and notable books lists.


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Natasha Wing

Natasha Wing is the creator of the popular "The Night Before..." picture book series that celebrates holidays and milestones in kids' lives, as well as several other fiction and nonfiction picture books.