Saturday, February 13, 2021

A Dummy’s Guide to Book Dummies

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.

Physical Dummies

As a kinesthetic learner, I like to pick things up and move them around. Manipulating material helps me think through sequence and structure. That’s why I love having a physical book dummy. 

How to make my favorite dummy:

  1. Stack eight sheets of 11 x 17" cover stock paper.
  2. Fold in half. Unfold. 
  3. 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.

Next Steps:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Book Maps

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:
  1. Get a piece of foam or poster board, a yardstick, and a marker.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

Going Digital

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. 


ACTIVITY

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

 

ABOUT THE PRIZE
Heather will talk with an author for 20 minutes on Zoom OR do a 20-minute Q & A for a class.

 

 

112 comments:

  1. Thank you, Heather, for laying this out so clearly. I love how your fun, unique animal books have turned out!

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  2. This is so practical and helpful -- thank you! I made a book dummy last fall when I was struggling to figure out the pacing of a narrative nf book. And that was exactly the step I needed to finish my first draft! Like you, I find it extremely helpful to work with something tangible and concrete when I'm plotting everything out.

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  3. What a smart way to create dummies and allow writers to see their manuscript in a whole other dimension. It's hard to see the whole picture (book) otherwise. Your methods will make polishing a pleasure.

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  4. This is so exciting to me! It's a cold, rainy day and I am going to spend it making dummies of a couple of my unpublished PBs. :P

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  5. Printable save-able quote: “ prevents me from frittering away time on wordsmithing and voice before I know where I am going.” Hadn’t thought about using PowerPoint for this and I am going to look for that app. Thanks so much.

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    1. This is a quote I need to stamp on my own brain. My mind always wants to fret over minor kinks when I need to first work out the major knots.

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  6. I have done this before, but not in a while and it will come in very handy again.

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  7. I visited the Eric Carle Museum & on his wall he talked about how he used dummy books for everything he writes. Ever since then, I've made dummy books for all my manuscripts too. Several in fact. I love to make them as they help with figuring out locations of scenes.

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  8. I always write drafts with page numbers, but I’ve not actually made a physical dummy. Think I’ll give it a try!

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  9. Thank you for the variety of ways a writer can create book dummies, Heather.

    Suzy Leopold

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  10. Wow. Lots of info. It will take a while to process all of it. Thanks for mentioning many different approaches.

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  11. Thank you, Heather, for more incredible advice! I love to use dummies later in the process, but I had never thought about using them at the beginning. As a fellow fritterer, I love how that will save time and beget structure.

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  12. Thank you for this great post. I've done a few dummies but have gotten lazy but you've given me the boot. Do it! So, I will. And I'm thinking that I might just add a paper dummy with each manuscript's (physical) folder. More to add to my paper factory...but you've helped me see how valuable this is.

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  13. Thanks for the concrete tips and inspiration, Heather. Now I'm experimenting with digital options.

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  14. I have tried all of these methods except PowerPoint. Definitely going to give it a try. Thank you Heather.

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  15. I used to just use a map or dummy when I was struggling with a story but now I've gotten used to starting with a map and I feel like it helps me find the problems in my story right from the beginning and I don't move on until I've solved them. I'm a visual person too so I love all the formats you've shared. Thank you!

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  16. I love the physical act of moving things around too - but I'm interested in trying the Power Point idea....thanks so much, Heather!

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  17. This is fantastically helpful, Heather! Thank you.

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  18. Maybe someone you could explain how the mind map works. I wouldn't know if those are are sections or pages or are they some sort of logical order? Is it for brainstorming or...?Sorry. Never did understand mind mapping.

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    1. Oops. Thanks so much for your inspiring post and enticing ideas. I keep my post-it-note dummies in an "Ugly Sketchbook" (borrowed from Abi Cushman)

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    2. In the image, the mind map is the one on the left. That particular map is one in which I was collecting information for a book about rattlesnakes. The one on the right is a template that I created in the same app, using the little color-coded bubbles that you can move around. It always helps me to have a visual template of the 32 pages in a book to help me see physical structure that I need to fit my conceptual structure into.

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  19. Thank you for such a helpful and practical post! As a new writer, I have definitely found myself working on wordsmithing and voice before I've really nailed down my focus, so am excited to try these techniques.

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  20. This is super helpful! By far the best presentation I’ve seen on the subject. I’m going to have to try the Total Recall app.

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  21. I keep hearing about making a dummy, but have not yet employed the practice. Thank you for sharing what you use!

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  22. This is just what I needed. I have several manuscripts but have never made a dummy. I’m anxious to try it.

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  23. I am a visual learner. Thanks for sharing how to do this. I can see it now!

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  24. Yes, yes, yes, to those dummies. I, too, had to learn the hard way. I'm about to dummy out a new NF PB that I've spent the last two months and a half months writing. I love all of your other visual methods, too. Am inspired to experiment with a mind map. Thanks!

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  25. Just as I was about to make a dummy for a fiction WIP in PowerPoint, I decided to tune into the NFFest page. And there it was A Dummy's Guide to Book Dummies. I love coincidence. Thanks for the helpful tips.

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  26. Love how Heather lays it out so clearly. It really helps to get a visual with this method!

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  27. I usually do physical dummies, but I'd like to try a digital one. I've heard others talk about using PowerPoint, so maybe I'll start there. Thanks for great advice, and the push!

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  28. Very helpful advice. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  29. Yay for book dummies. I usually make a story board for my stories, and occasionally a dummy. But I know I should make dummies more. They really do help me get the feel of the flow.

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  30. Thank you so much for this post, especially about including the type of paper you use! I can’t wait to try this! I used to make a lot of books with my students and another way to bind the center is sew the center with a needle and dental floss in a double figure 8, ending in the same center hole that you started. Thank you also for sharing your excellent idea for digital versions.

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  31. Thank you Heather for sharing your dummy process. Dummies help me find those things to cut, add, and page turns. They also help me pace the scenes.

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  32. Thank you for an inspirational post on dummies, Heather. You've motivated me to experiment!

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  33. Heather - is that last graphic a screenshot from Total Recall?? I've never used something like that but it looks very interesting. Also you're right. I used to not do dummies.

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    1. Yes, the last image is actually two pictures from work on that Total Recall app. The one on the left is a screenshot to illustrate the standard use of a mind map – in this case it was research for a book about rattlesnakes. The one on the right is the template that I created in that same app, but to show me the 32 page structure I have a picture book.

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  34. Thank you for sharing these various versions of book dummies and maps. Very helpful!

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  35. Thanks for reminding me to make use of a dummy book!

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  36. Wow--you've given me a lot to think about, Heather. Thanks!

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  37. Thanks for the thorough explanation of this very helpful tool.

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  38. I'm so thankful we have all of these options that we can choose according to our personal styles.

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  39. Pacing IS such a huge factor in a manuscript's success. Thank you, Heather, for this reminder to think initially of the overall book by using this method.

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  40. Anita Crawford ClarkFebruary 13, 2021 at 7:35 PM

    I love making dummies. These are some great new methods for doing so. I love these options and look forward to using them.

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  41. I have dummies of my manuscripts but have always used them at the end for "polishing". I've used post its on the wall to arc out a plot but dummies, that is smart!

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  42. LOVE all of these various ideas for the Dummies! :)

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  43. I LOVE all the different dummy book options and various ways to use them. I've printed this article out for further use.

    Great post!

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  44. Wow! What an interesting, fun, and important focus from this article. I hope I can keep up with and complete the activities involved--they are important steps to compiling nonfiction writings/books/stories that I have begun and truly want to complete to publishing them! Thanks!

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  45. Ok you convinced me. I can't wait to try a book dummy. Thank you.

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  47. This is brilliant! I've not made a dummy before but your post has given me the inspiration to do so.

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  48. Thanks Heather! The mind map is new to me and I’m gonna try it. 👍

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  49. I'm not a fan of them either, but will certainly up my game now and follow your great advice. Thanks!

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  50. Wonderful post, Heather. Thanks for sharing and encouraging us to have strategies for finding our own Big Picture.

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  51. Just the practical advice I needed today. This is great! Thanks, Heather!

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  52. I never considered a book dummy for nonfiction. Thanks for the tip. I'll try it with my current WIP.

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  53. Great post thank you Heather! Creating a book dummy, even if it is the manuscript alone, helps the author visualize what it can become!

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  54. Thanks, Heather. I hadn't thought of using mind mapping for that.

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  55. Thank you so much, Heather! Twice now, I've had interactions with you where you've presented something and I was like "Oh, hey - did the room get brighter over where you are too? A light just went off over here!" The book dummy idea is exactly what I needed to see to help me move out my ideas out of my stack of storage boxes and towards a pitch package. Thanks again! oh...and using tools that I have, but don't use in that way because that's not the context I typically use them in. :)

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  56. Ha ha! Using dummies IS smart! You have given us so many different ways to approach the book dummy.I didn't even know there was such a thing as a mind map app. I am definitely going to go find one and play with it! Thank you!

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  57. Dummies are smart :). Love the mind map idea, Heather--perfect for my next project!! Thank you!

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  58. Read on your books as ebooks. WONDERFUL way to present NF. You've inspired me to push ahead with a couple of interesting topics of my own! Thanks.

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  59. It's great to see that there are different digital options available! Thanks for sharing them.

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  60. Fabulous options for envisioning books, every step of the way. Thanks!

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  61. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler, so anything I can learn about illustration is new and wonderful. Thank you!

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  62. ooh, I love all these different methods! I'm for sure going to get that app. Thanks for all the tips, Heather!

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  63. Dummies are truly useful, but I didn't know of all these variations. Thanks, Heather.

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  64. Heather, thank you!!! I have created some book dummies, but you gave me 4 more equally useful tools, thank you!!!

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  65. So fun to hear all this dummy inspiration going on!

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  66. Options, options, options! Love it!

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  67. Tanks for sharing! I write PBs with page turns in mind, so I leave a line space between scenes. And I have used thumbnails when the pacing is off. But Total Recall is new to me.

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  68. Thank you so much for all the great examples. Some of the techniques were new to me and I'm eager to try them out!

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  69. Sticky Notes are the Best! Thank you for a new way to use them-- I foresee this being fun...

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  70. I love the great options. I use a clear large poster frame and draw my book dummy layout on the plastic. It's hung above my drafting table and I can either use dry erase on it or sticky notes to move things arounds.

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  71. Thank you, Heather, for sharing many practical ideas for picture book dummies.

    Suzy Leopold

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  72. So informative! Thank you for sharing the process of how to create dummies. I have never done one before and i will definitely be trying this on my manuscripts!

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  73. I am a HUGE believer in using dummies to plan out picture books, but I never tried the post-it method. I'm intrigued by the flexibility/adaptability this provides. I'm going to try it!

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  74. Thanks for this reminder to put drafts into dummies or maps. I really like the post-it idea because I always find myself erasing and crossing out text. I'm going to try it this week on two drafts!

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  75. WOW love these examples!! I'm definitely going to try this, thanks, Heather!

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  76. I am a Post-It gal too, and have used them to rearrange my PB texts before but not on a wall board. Great idea!

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  77. LOVE, love, love the detailed explanations and all the photos! So incredibly helpful.

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  78. Thank you for this, Heather! I, too, love having something in hand, rather than all digital. I appreciate the variety of methods you shared and am inspired now to use dummies from the start! Thank you for taking the time to write this up for us and include visual examples of your own work! Looking forward to reading your latest book to students.

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  79. This is all brilliant Heather. I will try all these methods. Thank you!

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  80. I've made a few dummies. They were helpful and I think I need to be dedicated to making them more often. Thanks for all the hints, formats, and suggestions, Heather.

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  81. This is the third time this year an author as suggested making a book dummy. I'm going to go with "the third time is the charm" and make one for my current manuscript. Thank you for laying everything out so clearly and reminding us that visualizing our book is just as important as writing it.

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  82. I'm so excited to try out these ideas! I am definitely a resistant dummy-booker and need to change haha!

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  83. This is so helpful as a writer and illustrator thank you!

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  84. heather,
    I've used book dummies for revision with success. I've not used them for big picture ideas. I'll have to try that.

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  85. Dear Heather--I've used picture book dummies, but yours took me to new heights. Love the power point idea. It's like you have a book at the end. However, your sticky notes on the folded 8 page book was brilliant. I'd always done them in pen. I'd do them over and over. Why had I never thought of sticky notes? I just finished one with sticky notes on a new book. I'll never do the whole book again, without doing this first with my idea. Thank you. thank you.

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  86. Love this, Heather. So many creative options available!

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  87. Excellent post, Heather. I am now armed with new ideas! Thanks!

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  88. Dummies and storyboards! My favorite thing to do. It sometimes feels like procrastination but it definitely worth the time. I agree with you that it iis hard to write if there is no direction or clarity. All the free writing will just be wild. Thanks for the practical ideas to connect visions to words.

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  89. I love your different examples and ways to map out the story. Thank you!

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  90. Thanks for sharing. Love the different possibilities of various templates for dummies.

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  91. This is super helpful! I love seeing a visual example of another author's process. Thanks so much for giving us a window into yours!

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  92. EXCELLENT post, Heather. About to go purchase some cover stock and post-its. Thanks for sharing!

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  93. I love the idea of using dummies but I admit I got lost at the digital formats. I think I prefer the dummies but I will go back and try to understand the other options.

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  94. Thank you so much for sharing your process. Over the years I've moved to composition notebooks for dummies, which allows me to keep the text and the notes together. My mind maps have to be on paper, too, because I scribble images as well as words. I like the idea of using Powerpoint for later drafts and will give it a try.

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  95. I'm partial to book maps, but not aware until now about digital possibilities. Thanks.

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  96. I knew about dummies and book mapping, but I didn’t know about that app. I’ll check it out. Thanks for sharing, Heather.

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  97. Heather, the technique of using dummies early on is so helpful in structuring a manuscript. And sticky notes on dummies and storyboards - GENIUS!

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  98. I thought I had commented on this when I read it, but I didn't. So...
    When I first starting writing, I didn't realize the value of making a dummy. It just seemed like a lot of extra work. But now I understsand how helpful there are.
    Thanks for this great post on dummies.

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