Thursday, August 9, 2012

Let's Ask - Question #13

My Let's Ask questions for Mira Reisberg:

With your extensive background in teaching children's picture book writing and illustration, would you be able to share why it is important and useful for writers to use a storyboard while editing? Also, I’ve noticed there’s more than one type of storyboard with different page counts, is one more preferable to work with than another? If you could give one piece of advice to a picture book writer what would be the most important inside tip on creating a publishable and re-readable story?

Mira Reisberg
    Beginning children’s picture book writers are always hearing: “Show, don’t tell.” Now while this mostly refers to using active rather than passive language, it also refers to deleting everything that the illustrator can show and that you don’t have to tell. This is why making a storyboard or writer’s dummy is really helpful. There are so many things you can do with these.

Now you might be wondering, what’s the difference between a storyboard and a dummy? A storyboard is basically a sheet of paper with 32 blocks where you write in what happens on each page as a kind of summary. You can also put little sketches in these blocks depending on what size storyboard you are using. A dummy is when you make a little mock-up of any size of your story where you can physically turn the pages. Using stick figures is totally fine with these and what they do is tell you the writer what the illustrator can show and what you don’t really need in your text. It also shows you how your page turns and pacing in terms of flow. Clearly, a writer’s dummy is more helpful for this, but you can stick with a storyboard if you don’t want that extra step. Is there a bunch of unnecessary description, are there characters that takes us out of the main thrust of the story that we can kill off and if needed include more problems or obstacles for our protagonist or hero on her/his journey or any other, more critical path information?

A standard picture book is 32 pages. Generally this includes 1 page for the introductory half-title, 2 facing pages for either the full title or the beginnings of the book and then an additional 14 or 15 double spreads to make the rest of the book ending on page 32 with either an authors note or some kind of twist.  Sometimes there are 24 pages or even 40, or even 64, but this is less common. However, it always comes to some number multiplied by 8. This is because the text and art are printed on large sheets of paper that are folded to make signatures of 8 pages each and then stitched, glued or stapled together. Generally, as a beginning writer, you want to tailor your story to 32 pages and this is what your dummy or storyboard should reflect. If it goes over this number, sometimes the publisher will pay the extra money to print on the endsheets that hold the book together, but  as a new person, don’t count on this.

If I could give one piece of advice to a picture book writer at the beginning of their career, don’t send your work out until it’s absolutely the very very best, most lyrical, beautiful, funny, soulful, or whatever the essence of it is, to a publisher. If you’re really committed, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, consult with experts (even experts consult with each other), critically read other’s successful children’s picture books and learn from them without copying, and either watch my free teaching children’s picture books reviews or study with me at Ooops, that’s four things. Oh well : )

BIO: Dr. Mira Reisberg received her MFA from Mills College in Painting and Digital Art. She received her PhD in Education and Cultural Studies from Washington State University writing a 370 page dissertation on children’s picture books and the healing power of creativity. She subsequently taught children’s literature courses at the university level.
Mira is also an editor, instructor/mentor and picture book consultant whose students’ award-winning books, including New York Times best sellers, have sold over a million copies. Mira is the director of The Picture Book Academy where she will be teaching “The Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books” e-Course starting August 27th. For more information visit or

You can find Mira on Twitter at @MiraReisberg, on Facebook at Mira Reisberg Art and Education, or at

You are also invited to join Mira's tribe of creative adventurers to receive free gifts and other goodies here


  1. I have found this technique invaluable, Mira. Thanks for reminding how important storyboarding is!

  2. This was wonderful advice. I can apply this to more than one area. Thank oyu a million for sharing!

  3. I have a giant bulletin board in my office that I like to use for storyboarding.

    1. Thanks for the tip, "office" is my dining room table...and it gets so cluttered with papers and stuff...a bulletin board is a great idea for my would keep the story I am working on in sight...but away from the clutter. :)

  4. Thanks for this post Mira and Jennifer! Great information.

  5. Jennifer, thanks for enabling us to hear these tips from Mira!
    Mira, thank you for explaining about the storyboards/book dummy...I've seen it before...but you made it so clear!
    And by the way, Jen...I love the way your sidebars look on your blog...I really need to clean mine up!


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