By Heather L. Montgomery
“Try making a book dummy,” my mentor said.
Why waste time on that? I wondered, but didn’t bother to ask.
“You should pace it out in a book dummy,” a professional critiquer later suggested.
That, I thought, is too simple to be the solution.
Finally, my critique group buddy insisted, “You need to try a book dummy!”
It took me years to finally get it: I needed a book dummy!
Dummies are helpful in the polishing stage of writing, but for me, they are most crucial early on, when I face the daunting task of sorting out a nonfiction book’s structure. I use a dummy to outline main concepts. This forces me to think “big picture,” and prevents me from frittering away time on wordsmithing and voice before I know where I am going.
Now, with 16 books under my belt, I turn to book dummies every single time. And one dummy – or even one type of dummy – won’t do.
How to make my favorite dummy:
- Stack eight sheets of 11 x 17" cover stock paper.
- Fold in half. Unfold.
- Attach the papers together along the centerline (a saddleback stapler or brass fasteners).
This dummy is my favorite because it creates a sturdy, book-size model. Having a physical copy in my hand allows me to feel the pacing that a page turn brings. If you don’t have access to 11 x 17" cover stock, legal-size paper works well, too.
- Place large Xs on pages you will not be using
for text. Most picture books are 32 pages, but all of those are not used for the
story. There’s at least one title page, and sometimes a half title; there’s the
copyright page; and, you’ll need pages for back matter. Other picture books are
24, 40, or even 48 pages. How many pages should you X out? Investigate books
from your dream publishers to find out.
- Use sticky notes to add text. Voila! Your dummy can be used over and over again. Various colors can be used for different concepts or different levels within your text. Using sticky notes encourages you to pick up and move concepts/text, encouraging flexibility in thinking. Maybe most importantly, this technique helps you visualize the amount of text that fits well on a page. What size sticky notes? How much text should fit on a page? Investigate books from your favorite authors to find out.
Sometimes, I need to see the entire book laid out once. That’s when I pull out my book map board.How to make my favorite map:
- Get a piece of foam or poster board, a yardstick, and a marker.
- Divide the board into at least 17 squares (to represent spreads). Four rows and five columns works well. Don’t forget to X out the extra spaces.
- Get your sticky notes and go to work!
This technique works well in the outlining/structuring stage as well as for drafting text. Take pictures of your map frequently to make it easy to revert to an earlier version.
As much as I love my real book dummy and map, digital versions have their advantages — save space, save drafts.
With Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint I can easily make a map for a book, no matter how long it is. I often use different colored backgrounds for different versions of my project. One advantage of PowerPoint is the ability to toggle between the slide sorter view and the reader view, giving me a book map and a book dummy in the same file.
I also use mind maps. On my tablet I use an app called a Total Recall (but any mind map app should work). Sometimes I create a typical mind map, but I also create 32-page templates color-coded to match traditional picture book structures (i.e. refrains, circular text, etc.). I love the fact that I can pick up chunks of words and move them around, change the shapes, and color code the bubbles. This technique offers the advantages of digital yet feels more intuitive than the other digital options.
Create one physical or one digital dummy or book map (or both!). Use each for big picture work on your WIP. Which works best? On February 24th take it one step further with Michelle Cusolito’s post on using dummies during revision.
Using dummies is smart!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her nonfiction books have received recognition from NCTE, Junior Library Guild, and VOYA. Recent titles include: Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and Their Kids, Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis Under the Waves, and Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other.
Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com