Be Smart, Make a Dummy
By Nancy Churnin
I just sold my 11th book, but do I get stuck sometimes? YES. One of the problems that comes back to haunt me more than I would like to admit is gathering too much information. Let’s face it, one of the reasons you’re a nonfiction writer is that you love research. I’m going to take a gamble and bet that you’re one of those people that study old books, newspaper and magazine articles, lifting up your head to exclaim, Really? She did what? That actually happened?
It’s easy to hoard all this delicious information and to get carried away by all the fascinating details. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve written in a previous Nonfiction Ninja post about A Theme to the Rescue – where a strong, kid-friendly theme helped me streamline (and, sigh, toss out) details that kept my story boat from floating. A theme is a lifeline. But in this post, I want to talk about how structure can also be your friend.
When I’m worried that I’ve got too much information or narrative for a picture book to hold, I give thanks to picture book author and Storystorm creator Tara Lazar, and pull out her Picture Book Layouts, better known as dummies.Tara gives two options below.
In one example, you have 14 spreads, plus 2 single-page illustrations. In the other, you have 12 spreads. Trying to see how your story fits into this limited number of spreads can wake you to reality very quickly. Given that you don’t want to have more than a couple of sentences on each spread, you realize you have to make big choices: do I really need this? Is this advancing my theme and doing it in a way that makes kids want to turn the page to a satisfying conclusion?
If you’ve got too much information for a dummy to hold, maybe what you really want to work on is middle grade. But that’s another story.
10/19/2021 01:48:55 pm
LOVE this, Nancy. I used to make dummies for my picture book manuscripts...but haven't done it recently. Not sure why not. Thank you for the reminder about TOO MUCH INFO in a nonfiction picture book...and TOO MANY THEMES. I'm actually struggling with that right now with an R&R...I will take a page from your book...and pin down that kid-friendly theme...and hopefully, the rest will fall into place.
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