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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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« Creative inspiration: NARWHALS! | Main | How WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Was Made (Part 1): Coming up with an idea »

How WHERE ARE MY BOOKS Was Made (Part 2): Thinking visually with a thumbnail sketch template, plus free print-ready template for picture book writers and illustrators

Making Of A Picture Book posts so far: Main Index/ResourcesPart 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

Back to Where Are My Books? Bonus Page


I spent a lot of time revising the manuscript text; I estimate I revised it at least 40-50 times in total through the whole process (only a few of these were on the request of my editor). Anyone who thinks writing picture books is easy IS OUT OF THEIR MINDS.


Don't get me wrong -- writing picture books is also tons of fun! But it also takes a lot of work; if you haven't already, do read Part 1.

I did some writing and revising via a plain text document on my Mac, some using Scrivener, but ended up going to plain paper so I could scribble and doodle at the same time. Here's why:

Even as I agonized over the text, I could tell that something wasn't right. At one point Justin suggested putting aside the mss and working on figuring out how to tell my story visually in very rough thumbnail sketches -- knowing that would help determine my text. He told me not to worry about character sketches yet.

I loved the idea. To help accomplish this, I created a template which fits on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. In case any of you would like to use it for your own picture book planning, I've provided a print-ready PDF version (click thumbnail below):

Click image to download PDF (approx 1 MB)

There seemed to be many different templates for book dummies out there, but I wanted to make sure I was using one that Justin approved since I was going to print out multiple copies for me to scribble on. Justin said the endpapers were separate for a 32-page book.

[Updated November 6, 2015: Also see my updated post with free picture book thumbnail templates for picture book authors and illustrators, including templates that let you brainstorm different layout options for a single spread.]

I filled up nearly a dozen of these sheets with my scribbled thumbnails. Working out a story with small thumbnail sketches is GREAT for exposing bad pacing and other storytelling problems; it's well worth spending time on small thumbnail sketches in the beginning than pouring hours into finessed sketches.

As I worked on these thumbnail sketches, I realized that the mss I sent Justin just didn't work. I worked non-digitally for these sketches using just a pile of printed sheets, a mechanical pencil and a big eraser. The eraser got a LOT of use. :-)

Here are some other sources of finding picture book dummy templates:

Tara Lazar's Picture Book Dummy/Construction Layout Tips

Sara McIntyre's Book Dummy

How To Mock Up A Picture Book - by Darcy Patterson, from a writer's point of view

FAQ: Making A Picture Book Dummy - by Tina Burke

How To Make A Storyboard - by Uri Shulevitz

Even if you don't draw but are just writing a picture book story, I still recommend you try this method. Just use stick figures or a scribbled phrase (e.g. "Sam throws marmite at Emma" etc.). As much as I love digital tools, I do find freedom in being able to write and draw freeform with just an ordinary ballpoint pen on cheap paper. Plus I don't get as easily distracted by email or social media that way.

Continued in Part 3

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  • Response
    Revamped this comic for use in Part 2 of my "How WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? was created" series. The post also includes a free, downloadable 32-page picture book thumbnail sketch template.

Reader Comments (5)

Fantastic! Thank you. That's a great visual to have.

November 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohnell

Switching from writing to sketching, for me, is like switching from grownup to child. It's a freer experience, even with stick figures. Thanks for the template, Debbie!

November 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPat Miller

Awesome, Debbie. Thanks for the PDF and the great links...

November 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia Liu

Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for all the great info, and especially the story board template. I've just begun my journey into self publishing a picture book after traditional publishing for some years, and so far all the creative work has blown my mind.


Cassandra Webb

February 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercas webb

Really helpful! Thanks so much for outlining your process and offering your thumbnail sketch template. :)

March 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMiki Dare

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