Here at Flying Pants Editing, we love working on picture books. If you’ve worked with us you’ll know that one of the exercises we are keen to have writers work on is mocking up a dummy of their story, just the words, to check for flow, ensure that the all page turns are enticing and that the amount of text allocated to each page will give an illustrator plenty of room to do their thing too. It’s a practical consideration you do need to take into account as a writer.

We recently worked on a really special project that required that we practice what we preach, and it was incredibly illuminating in that it gave us some great points from which we could then rework the page turns. It’s such a useful exercise!

When it comes to a dummy, you’ll need to know how many pages you’re spreading your story across. In a traditional 32-page picture book format you will usually have only 14 double page spreads to work with. The rest of that 32 page space is taken up with book ends, copyright and title.

So, without worrying about title pages and the like, you are going to mock up a physical picture book dummy using paper, scissors, glue and a stapler. Start by looking at your manuscript and, if you haven’t already done so, try to divide your story into 14 spreads. Now, print out your story, and mock it up:

  1. Take 7 sheets of A4 paper
  2. Cut them in half, so you have 14 sheets of paper, i.e. 14 double page spreads
  3. Lay them out in order on a desk or table
  4. Using scissors, cut out each of your divided 14 spreads
  5. Stick each spread down using glue
  6. Arrange in order, staple them together and voila! You have your dummy

Now, read your story aloud. Notice the page turns – are they urging the story ever-forward? Could a cliffhanger be used? What’s working and what isn’t? Are there too many words? Might a wordless double spread be fun to add in (it’s a picture book after all). Pay attention. pause and reflect, make notes. Reprint, re-cut and re-stick accordingly.