I'm querying and to begin with, I avoided agents that asked for synopses as part of the query package, but I've reached the point where some of the people I'd really like to rep my book are synopsis-wanters, so I need to actually write one. I've done some research, and there is a lot of contradictory information out there about how to write a synopsis. Some say you need to put the character names in CAPS when you first mention them, others say don't. Some say a synopsis should be three pages long, others five or even one. Can you help me figure out how to do this?
I feel your pain. Synopses are not easy. But unfortunately, they are often required, so it's important that you write a good one. Agents and publishers use them to ensure your story has a good shape and a coherent story with beats in the right places and character arcs that make sense.
So your synopsis needs to show them that.
Different agents want synopses of different lengths, so it's a good idea to have a variety of different ones at hand. This is actually easier to do than you might think.
Start off by going through your book chapter by chapter. Write a brief summary of what happens in each chapter - and I mean brief. Focus solely on the important events. This is the beginning of your synopsis.
If you're like me, you'll probably end up with around five pages of chapter summaries which you will then use to write a basic outline of your story, from beginning to end. Yes, end. You do need to give away your ending in a synopsis. How else will the agent or publisher know the book has a satisfying ending?
Once you've done this, you will probably have a fairly long synopsis which may work for some agents who ask for longer ones. For those who only want a two or one page synopsis, you will need to edit down this longer synopsis by cutting out any extraneous words, possibly some of your lesser sub-plots and any minor characters who might not play a role in the main thread of your story.
As for capitalizing character names, this is a preference thing. Some agents will ask for it, and in that was you should do it - always follow directions, but others won't and probably won't care if you do or don't. I like to do it, at least while I'm drafting a synopsis, because it makes me aware of how many characters I'm naming. You don't want to have too many. If it's a character who shows up once or twice in the story, and isn't key to it, don't name her. Just explain who she is in relation to the MC (e.g. estranged aunt, waitress, bank teller).
Synopses are always in third person and present tense. You don't need to worry about showing and not telling here either. It's just telling the story in its most basic sense. If you can capture some of the voice in there, that's good, but it isn't essential. Just make sure the grammar is clean and there are no typos or obvious errors. And make sure your story makes sense.
It's always a good idea to get someone else to read your synopsis before you send it out. Someone who hasn't read your book. They will be able to tell you if there are places they are confused, or they feel a character's behavior is inconsistent. It might be a flaw in your synopsis, but it may also be something you need to look at in the book itself.
I hope that helps. There is a lot of contradictory information out there, but as long as you get your story down on the page in a way that makes it clear you know how to write a story, you'll be okay.