anatomy of a children’s book synopsis

*UPDATE: You may now download this article to your Kindle! *

Here it is: the DREADED synopsis. A synopsis is a one-page, single-spaced, summary of your book (beginning, middle, end). Typically written in third person, present tense. This is the C LIU rule of thumb. You’ll hear all different answers on this one. But when guidelines don’t say anything more than “synopsis,” this is my definition. NOTE: synopses should only apply to chaptered books/novels. Writing one for a PB is kind of silly.

Now let’s deconstruct this horrible document.

Points to remember:

  • The synopsis should give the reader a clear idea of what happens in the story (no cliffhangers)
  • It should also be INTERESTING TO READ.
  • It focuses on the main characters and the driving plot. It touches on minor characters and subplots AS THEY RELATE TO THE DRIVING PLOT.

Parts of a synopsis

  • Beginning – paragraph one
  • Middle – paragraphs two-three-four
  • End – paragraph five.

THE END
That wasn’t so hard was it? If you keep a guideline like this in your head, you won’t find yourself writing eight paragraphs to describe what happens at the beginning. You’ll know what you’re shooting for even if the final synopsis doesn’t completely follow this structure. The idea is: Write some for the beginning, some more for the middle, and less for the end. This is exactly correlated to your book, too. Isn’t it? (hopefully).

Let’s break it down.

Beginning

sets up the context. The reader should have some idea of who the main character(s) is, how old he/she might be, the setting (if it’s important), and the “event” or “circumstances” that led you to start the book there.
NOTE: PARDON the ridiculous example. This is totally off the cuff. I NEED COFFEE NOW.

  • Paragraph 1: Ten-year-old Cynthea Liu wonders what’s behind a mysterious door in her house. Her mother warns her not to go inside. Then she couples the admonishment with a strange statement–“a bad bunny loves sports cars. Remember that, Cynthea.” Despite mom’s odd words, Cynthea can’t resist. She steals the sacred key from her mother’s purse and opens the door.

Middle

describes chain of events leading to the climax. You will be writing around three paragraphs. You might organize the paragraphs according to character’s obstacles–say, if you’ve put your MC through a set of three terrible things. Or by season, if your book happens over summer, winter, and fall. Or progression of the struggle, like my example. Find a way to divide the middle of your book into workable parts to summarize.

  • Paragraph 2 (the start of her problems): Cynthea is greeted with darkness, a tunnel that winds down, down, down to a series of caverns. She discovers she has found the Bun-derworld, a kingdom whose rabbit inhabitants are elated by Cynthea’s arrival. Cynthea is astounded by their graciousness. SHE LOVES BUNNIES… BLAH BLAH BLAH….more things that lead to this…
  • Paragraph 3 (problems grow): When Cynthea is crowned Princess of the Bun-derworld, she realizes Snoop, the King, won’t let her return home. He swipes the sacred key from her and swallows it. Then Cynthea learns he has a bad-bunny agenda ……….BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH…
  • Paragraph 4 (problems at their height): Cynthea tries X. Y. And Z to find a way home. But everything fails. It isn’t until D, that she realizes the key is still retrievable. It’s in Snoop’s litter bin!

End

describes the climax and then the resolution. How it ends. If possible, show the story comes full circle.

  • Paragraph 5. But Snoop is on to Cynthea. He won’t let her have it back UNLESS she solves an ancient riddle–a riddle Cynthea’s mother had solved before. Cynthea recalls her mom’s warnings– “A bad bunny loves sports cars.” Cynthea is right! She is given the key and returns home. She finds her mother in the kitchen, going through her purse–“Have you seen my sacred key?” Cynthea returns it. She’ll never open that door again.

I’m now going to refer you to a place where you’ll see REAL examples of synopses. After you read a thousand of them, you’ll understand what’s a good synopsis and what’s a bad one.

If you’re taking the crash course, return to step seven – send out your work.

Download this article to your Kindle!

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19 thoughts on “anatomy of a children’s book synopsis

  1. Your website is brilliant, and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen. (That might only be two people, but those two people have you bookmarked, I promise!) Don’t discontinue the articles! Your loyal readers need you!
    Now I’ll tell everyone who’ll listen to leave you a message… (Listen, everyone!)

  2. I read something from your page each day. Your information is rock solid and
    written in a no-nonsense way! Easy site to navigate. Plus it’s fun!

  3. Your anatomy of a synopsis is spot on. The conversational style of your articles make them easy to understand and a joy to read. You are a goldmine for writers old and new!

  4. I have been enjoying your new updates since you started posting them. I am leaving you a comment here so you will know that for sure, and because you specifically solicited comments on your blog, you needy girl, you.

    Any words of wisdom on book proposals for non-fiction?

  5. Yes, I am needy. I ADMIT IT! (but I hate writing for no audience. Don’t we do enough of that with our real work?) To answer your question, my BIG head knows little about NF book proposals. 🙂

  6. This entry saved my life. I am not kidding. I was in utter despair yesterday, thinking I could not possibly boil my 104,000 word manuscript down to a single page synopsis, and finding none of the advice I’d read on the subject to be at all encouraging and helpful. Then I found this article and you made it so clear, so simple, and so delightfully bunny — I mean, funny — that all my anxiety flew out the window and before I knew it, I had sat down and hammered out a five-paragraph, exactly one page synopsis that captures all the important details of the main plot but doesn’t waste time on digressions. You enabled me to see the “backbone” of my story more clearly than ever before, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

    I’ve written an entry in my LJ pointing to this essay. I hope many others come here and take advantage of your wisdom. Thank you so very, very much.

  7. This exactly what I’ve been looking for. I need to write a synopsis and was needing some direction. Your example really helped me to understand the need of the intro, then building, then resolving the story. Excellent. I’m loving this site.

  8. Brilliant, simply brilliant–and fun too. You have taken something thoroughly and completely frightening–the synopsis–and turned it into something simple and unintimidating. I wrote my first with flying colors and was even complimented on it by an agent. It doesn’t get better than that. Thank you Cynthea.

    P.S. I stopped by to give you a personal thank you at the SCBWI cheese and wine, but have only now found a moment to sing your praise to all the world.

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! Sandra, it was wonderful of you to thank me in person. Of course, it makes my day and I’m THRILLED you made it past the synopsis with flying colors. Awesome! Good luck with your writing!

  9. I have just been reading about writing a synopsis for a children’s book. You give a great advice but i have written a childrens book, aimed at a target age of 3 to 4 years but it only consists of 18 pages have you any advice on writing a synopsis for a short story book please.

  10. This was extremely helpful. I am about to submit my synopsis via e-mail. I hope the agent will work with me. Wish me luck!!!

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