Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Dummy 101, Part I: Getting Started

Last semester I took the Book Dummy class, and boy was that intense! There was no time to update my blog or write about what I had learned each week- every day was go, Go, GO!!!

But as busy as I was, it had been quite rewarding. Taking the Book Dummy course has helped me not only to (almost) fully complete my first book dummy, but I also now feel confident enough to continue on my own with the rest of the stories brewing in my brain. And the best part is, I can now finally share it with you!

First Thing's First...

1. You Need a Story.
And it better be good! Get rid of those typos and grammatical errors- before you start drawing, your manuscript really should shine all by its lonesome. This also means there aren't any holes in your plot, either. This step wasn't necessarily required in this particular class, however, because each student began in different stages. But if you're just starting off, this step will save you time and headaches and all the back-and-forth stuff you don't already have time for. Seriously, take a writing course if you are going to be an author/illustrator. Because editors also don't have time for those who don't take the time to be serious about their work. Perfect your story. Or find an already perfected one to illustrate.

2. Pace Out Your Story
Pacing is SUPER important. Grab a few picture books and ask yourself why you think they put those particular words on those particular pages. Is there suspense created? A surprised revealed only when you turn the page? Do they need to slow the story down for the full emotional effect? Pacing and page-turns help turn a story almost into a movie- a whole production. Everything placed on that page was put there for a reason. Once you figure out those reasons, and learn to recognize them, put those skills to use with your own manuscript. Then take your MS (manuscript) and break it into numbered pages so you can actually see it for yourself.

3. Work Out Some Thumbies and Make A Storyboard
Okay, so now you've got your story broken down into pages, draw up a grid of page layouts so you can get some basic thumbnail drawings down. It doesn't need to be pretty, just recognizable. Step back and take a look at your completed storyboard. Is the pacing working? The general story playing out the way you pictured it? Is there plenty of action where it is needed? Do this step a few times if you must- try to work out as many kinks as possible. Then take a look at your compositions. Do they help or hinder the story? Mull it all over, pose like Rodin's Thinker, then move on. There's still plenty of time to change things around a bit!

First-Pass Storyboard for my dummy book!

4. Cut and Paste
This is the step I took to help me visually see my words right there in front of me, the way they would look in print. I printed my manuscript in size 18 pt, then sliced up each sentence and pasted them all down (according to my basic sketches) onto 8x10 paper with a Post-It glue stick. Then I stuck the pages into a binder and read them like a book. Some pages had too much text, but the pacing worked. So I worked on those sentences until everything looked like it was where it should be. The re-positionable glue is great for re-arranging. And yes, I know I could do this on the computer and save paper, but I needed something tangible in front of me to get a better feel for my book.
Sample page layout, complete with notes and reminders.
5. Scan, Resize, and Print!
As I worked on my medium-sized thumbnails, I found myself getting frustrated that I had to draw blobs for my text, and in the right place, on forty different page layouts. So to save myself some time I scanned all of my text layout pages and reduced them to 50%, and then printed those pages. I now had my entire Mini Dummy ready to be sketched without having to mess around with guessing where my text should go. Even better, I could do my sketches onto tracing paper (in my case, parchment paper) and re-do them as many times as I wanted. I hate erasing stuff. It is messy, and you lose so many good little sketches due to wrong placement or size, etc. I just keep moving on, and scan the things I like and ignore the things I don't like.

Well! If you've been following these steps, now you've got yourself a nice foundation to work upon! Your MS is as shiny as you can make it, your pacing helps move the story forward, creates tension and reveals surprises, and you've got everything laid out for Part II: Drawing!

I'll see you at the next posting of Book Dummy 101! To Be Continued...

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