Monday 5 March 2012

How to speak publisher - D is for double-page spread

Open a book at any page. That's a double-page spread: the left-hand page and the right-hand page together. Easy, isn't it?

Meg's Mummy, Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski
If you write novels without illustrations you can skip this post now. The double-page spread is of no consequence to you. You can stick your books on Kindle and they'll look much the same (except for the crap design - oh yes, D is for Design. Better not forget to do that). But if you write illustrated fiction or non-ficiton, or picture books, the double-page spread is king and you are his subject. Vassal. Serf. Slave. Got it? The tyranny of the double-page spread is legendary...

This post will have some copyright-violating pictures of double-page spreads. I am showing these for the purposes of review and comment, OK? And I think these are good books, so I could even suggest you buy them.

Let's start with picture books. The two pages of a picture book spread can be used as a single entity or as two. If you use them as a single entity, there is often text on only one side (if there is any text at all).

What can rabbit hear? Lucy Cousins
Whether the text is on the left or the right depends on how the picture is using the space. A very traditional layout has the picture on one side and the text on a white background on the opposite side.

Mon ami crocodile, Fred Bernard
You can use the picture to build up to the text (on the right) or you can use the text as a surprise following the page turn (on the left). When you are planning a picture book, you need to think about where the page turns come, so don't spoil a surprise by having it visible on the right while the reader goes through the build-up on the left.

This spread contains a surprise set up on the previous spread. To maximise the impact, most of the spread is taken up by a rather cryptic image and the surprise comes right at the end, a single word on the far right.

Wolves, Emily Gravett
Alternatively, you can cram the page with small pictures, like a comic book or graphic novel.

Amit az Orrszarvúkról Feltétlenül, Tudni Kell
The double-page spread is wonderfully versatile and when used well contributes to the meaning of the book.

But the rule of the spread is notoriously pernicious in non-fiction. The amount of information on a topic is limited by the page design rather than the needs of the reader. Silly, isn't it? A hard topic is not allowed more space than a simple topic because they both have to fit onto the same sized spread.
On this page, Oswald Mosley is given as much space as Hitler!

Take me back, various authors, DK
Often, the visual appeal of the spread is pre-eminent. On this page, the information that could be included was restricted by the size and positions of the text boxes, and they were determined by which bits of the image could be obscured and the aesthetic properties of the wiggly line.

Volcano, Anne Rooney
Fairly obviously, a double-page spread comprises two pages: one on the left and one on the right. The first half of a spread always has an even page number.  

Working spreads are those which you are actually allowed to use as content (as the author). The first working spread is often pages 4-5, with the pages before that used up by gumph (official name 'prelims') such as the title page and perhaps a contents page.

The two pages of a double-page spread (dps) can be referred to as any of these:

a, b
l, r
v, r
left, right
verso, recto

In case it's not obvious, v, r refers to verso (=left), recto (=right).

To finish, here is a spread from my favourite picture book which makes supreme use of the double-page spread. Every spread is the same  except for the toucan's eye, the beak, and the text. The shape of the die-cut pages, with the two halves of the spread struggling to get apart, embodies the sentiment of the book.

Le toucan jaloux, Bénédicte Guettier
It has only 70 words and contains the brilliant line: 'je déteste ce crétin prétentieux', and it's heartbreaking. Love it!



  1. Oh yes! Love it indeed! (Wish I had written that line!)

  2. Oh! so nice posting!Love it surprising