There are very different recommendations regarding the style and purposes of a synopsis. On one side is the idea that the synopsis is a draw to get publishers and editors to want to read the full story. Adherents of this viewpoint counsel you to write the synopsis in the style of your story and to write to entertain. If you’ve ever judged a writing contest or entered one that makes use of a synopsis, you’re probably used to this style.
Those who recommend this style tell writers that everything sent to an agent or editor or publisher is a sample of the writer’s style, so each item needs to be creative and entertaining.
This strategy encourages including the story arc as well as major character arcs. A recommendation is to make use of pacing and the fiction elements so that as they near the end of the synopsis, readers feel they’re approaching the end of the story. Possibly including the same highs and lows and buildup that you’d include in your novel. What this turns into is a mini-version of your story with the same feel and word choices and emotional impact.
On the other side is the viewpoint that says the synopsis isn’t to entice but a report of what happens in your story. Those who advocate this style are recommend only incorporating the facts—what happens? why? how? how is the story resolved? The emphasis here is not on how you write but truly on what happens in the story.
Those looking for this style in a synopsis aren’t looking to read a mini-version of the novel; while they want to know what happens, they don’t need to see your writing style. Think of this group as wanting to cut to the chase.
Advice on Writing the Synopsis
Start with the commonalities and write your synopsis. Once you’ve got the basics, you can shade the synopsis toward either of the approaches. If you’re including a synopsis for a contest, you’ll need one that’s well written and appealing, that reads like your story, that engages the reader. If you’re writing one for your long-time editor, give her the facts.
Ah, but what if you’re somewhere in between, approaching an agent or editor at a publisher for the first time? Make sure to check the agent’s or editor’s website and/or blog for recommendations. Write an appealing synopsis that answers the question what is this story about? Write two synopses, one for each style.
Don’t let indecision about the style of your synopsis keep you from submitting to your agent or editor of choice. Make a decision and send the submission. Write your synopsis. Make it the best you can. Have others read it. And then start submitting.
Keep in mind that proponents of neither style are looking for a laundry list of common actions or setting details. No one is looking for a play-by-play. One way to keep from writing a synopsis filled with unimportant details is to practice with a book you didn’t write or to write a summary of a movie.