I'd been thinking of the synopsis as an especially evil form of book report, which wasn't getting me anywhere. I kept producing results that felt like lies about my own book. My mantra of complaint was, Compression is distortion. That's true, but not helpful. My strategy for dealing with having a synopsis I hated was...wait for it...to rely entirely on face-to-face pitch sessions, so that I'd never have to send a query or a proposal that would include a synopsis. It worked better than you'd think, but not quite well enough to get me any sort of contract for the Big Book.
About a month ago, I overheard one of my grad school friends advising another about how to write a dissertation proposal: Don't think of it as an explanation of your argument, think of it as a bureaucratic form filled out in complete sentences.
Aha! Aha? Well, maybe aha.
If editors and agents could use scan-tron sheets filled in with number 2 pencils to sort their slush piles, they would. True or False, check one for each of the following statements: My book has characters who are not just versions of me. My characters want things. My characters get out of bed and do things. Something happens in my book. The something that happens is believable without being boring. My book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. True on every count? Okay, bring on the manuscript.
Alas, everybody would always check true while evaluating their own manuscripts, so the bureaucratic form has to resemble real storytelling just enough for the gatekeepers to ascertain which writers can and can't honestly check true for every question.
Is my new guess actually any better than the Evil Book Report Theory? I'm not in a position to know, but I'm acting on the Bureaucratic Form Theory before the drive to do so slips away. How often does a fiction writer feel excited about revising a synopsis, after all?