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
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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):
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:
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.