by Dayne Sislen
Smart writers, make their own picture book dummies to improve their writing. By making a rough dummy showing the page breaks and illustrated action on each page you can clearly see where page-turn surprises should fall and when there just isn’t enough action to keep kids interested.
It’s important to know what lines of your text will fall on each spread. The best way to do this is to follow a typical 32-page picture book template. I have shown two different templates showing the use of 32-pages in a picture book to give different amounts of space to your story.
Picture book page counts can be confusing. There is a lot of conflicting information about the layout of a typical 32-page picture book. Go into the children’s section of any book store or library and start counting pages. Some picture books are 32, while some are 40, some are 24, some are 28, you get the idea. Why are we always told that 32-page picture books are the standard?
Page count depends on a lot of different variables. Some picture books are “self-ended” which means the full 32-page count is partly used up by the pages pasted down to the cover and back cover. Some picture books use different colored paper for the pages that are glued down to the cover. This means all 32 pages can be used for your story. Some of these pages will also be used for copyright/publishing information, dedication and title pages.
Most picture books are based on 32-pages but some use on 40-pages or even 48-pages. These are usually traditional printed books from the larger publishing houses who have bigger budgets. The page count in books almost always increases by multiples of 8. These are called signatures. Print on Demand self-publishing is more lenient with page counts because they use a different kind of binding on their books.
A dummy will make it easy to pinpoint problem areas in your manuscript. Do you have page after page of two characters standing and talking to each other? This is boring for kids. If all the action happens in one part of the book and nothing exciting or worth illustrating falls on all the other pages you have a problem.
A dummy is easy to make. It doesn’t have to be pretty or fancy, it’s to help you with your manuscript. Take two sheets of typing paper and fold them into eight squares. Cut each sheet into 4 pieces to form pages and put them together. Number the pages. Don’t forget to use the first pages for a title, copyright, dedication, and other front material or if you want your book self-ended mark your paste-down sheets.
Then start writing your text on each page. Think in scenes, not just words. This is not easy at first, you may have to start several times to get every spread to come out even. You may even need to rewrite parts of your manuscript to fit the page breaks. In the end, it will help your manuscript with pacing and visualization. Remember all action on each spread moves to the right. Use stick figures to indicate your characters.
Have fun, hope this helps.
As an illustrator, I do page breakdown for each book I illustrate. If you need help with illustrating your picture book, contact me. I would love to hear about your story.