Monday, August 5, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #25: Layout

Greetings Writers & Illustrators!

Today I want to start a series on Making a Dummy Book.

First off, what's a dummy book?  Is it a book for less-than-intelligent people?  

 No, no.  Think of dummy like a crash test dummy.  It's not real. It's a test.  A dummy book is a rough draft of a book.  We author/illustrators make them ourselves to show a agent/editor how a book would look all sketched out.  And the first thing you need to do when making a dummy book, is prepare how the book will be laid out.

If you're a writer you might be thinking, Julie, I don't need to know this stuff.  I'm a wordsmith  solamente!

I beg to differ.  On one hand, sure you can only think about the words and let it go at that.  But even if you don't illustrate, it can only help your writing to understand how a picture book is laid out, how to use the pacing of the page turns, and how to fill 30 pages with story.

I should start by saying that layout is one of my least favorite parts of the process.  It's not unlike putting a puzzle together and I'm not in love with puzzles.  Therefore, I have come up with a couple different ways to do it because I'm always looking for a way to make a challenging task more enjoyable and sometimes all it takes is a little variety.

Here's one of my methods:  Posterboard and Sticky Notes.

As you can see, I have drawn on a bunch of two-page spreads ranging form page 6 to page 36.

Why start on page six, Julie?  Why not page one, Dumb-dumb?

Page 1 is the paper that gets glued down to the cardboard of the book.
Page 2 - 3 are end papers.
Page 4 might be a copyright page, or it might be blank.
Page 5 is usually the title page.

Most of the time, the book doesn't get going until page 6.

In MONKEY ONO, page 6 is actually the copyright page, but I used part of it in the illustration for a two-page spread.

Sticking with the poster board method, I would simply go through the story, breaking up the text somewhat evenly, and make little stick figure stinky note drawings and pop them in place.  I'll often start at the beginning for a few spreads, then I'll jump to the end and lay that out the way I want it, then I'll go back and try to fill in the middle.

You might find you don't have enough boxes filled.  OH HAPPY DAY!  You have more space!  Perhaps you can add more details to one scene or a plot twist or another character challenge?  Or perhaps you can take your time drawing out a joke or a dramatic scene?   And if it's only a page or two of extra space, that's not a problem.

In Ammi-Joan Paquette's new book GHOST IN THE HOUSE, illustrated by Adam Record, they had a mini-title page then a full two-page spread title page(s). 

Now, what is more likely to happen if you're me, is that you have TOO MUCH STORY and NOT ENOUGH BOXES.  Aurg!  Now you have to condense.   And it's not a really big deal.  It just means that you might have to take some show-scenes and make them tell-scenes and you might have to sacrifice a two-page spread and make it into a one-page spread.  There are always ways to do it, but have to whittle.

This is where it's handy to have sticky notes because you can pick those suckers up and move them around without redrawing.  (That said, I have recently grown fond of the stick-figure first layout.  Anyone can do it and it saves a lot of drawing time.)

Basically, you just keep moving your sticky notes around and filling and condensing pages until you have approx. 30 pages of story, somewhat* evenly balanced.

*I say somewhat because you don't have to have any hard rules like 20 words per page.  But picture books are a little like a song in that there is usually some kind of pattern/structure that the whole book follows.  For example, it would be odd to have a book like Jon Klassen's THIS IS NOT MY HAT where there are usually 10-20 words per spread and then suddenly have a page with 100 words on it.  It would be jarring.

There are days when I CANNOT DEAL with the poster board.  I don't want to sit there and stare at it.  It mocks me and I hate it.  Besides, I want to sit on the couch, or something.  When that's the case, I'll tote my sketchbook wherever and kick back and sketch.

If I have most of the text already, I'll print it out in a small font like 10 pt and cut it into bits and tape them into my sketchbook so I don't have to rewrite, like so:

Sometimes I get lucky and I get enough pages this way.  Not usually.  I still have to rework some things.  But as long as you go in with the attitude that it's a fluid process with lots of tweaking, whatever you choose to do, you'll get it done.

And chocolate always helps too.


Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Julie, thanks so much for this installment, it is so generous of you to share these kind of somewhat technical details of how to make a book. I loved it.
As a librarian, I think it is fascinating.
You show that writing/illustrating isn't a so esoteric thing.
Thanks again!!


Mirka Breen said...

Wonderful, Julie. Writers need to be mindful of page-turns and illustration possibilities, so *after* the first draft and initial story points-check, a PB dummy is very useful.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Thanks for laying this out so plainly. Very helpful!

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Chocolate always helps, yes. Especially motivating if I can only have it after revising!

Claudine G. said...

A very useful post! I did the storyboard and dummy layout for my two PBs and they made such a huge difference in visualizing the stories. (Of course, when it came to e-publishing, the double-page layouts don't always work that well. Pity.)

Julie_c said...

But that's a really good tip for ePublishing, Claudine. Thanks!