Plot Outline vs. Synopsis: What's the Difference

by Lee Allen
(Leicester, uk)

Question: what is the difference between a plot outline and a synopsis?

Answer: You may find some people use these terms interchangeably, and some define the terms differently to suit their needs (e.g. However, as we use the terms on this site, a plot outline is something you create before you write your novel. You then use it as a guide during the writing process to help you remember how you want the story to unfold. Writers who rely on plot outlines are sometimes called "plotters," because they plan their novels in advance (which does cut down on the amount of rewriting that must be done to create a good second draft).

A synopsis is a summary of your novel which you may be asked to give an agent or publisher as part of your proposal. Synopses are written after you have finished writing your manuscript. That's partially to reflect any changes you made to the story during the writing process, and because some people (pantsers) don't make plot outlines, preferring to make up the story as they go along.

(Of course, the downside to pantsing is that you risk getting stuck partway through your story, with no idea where to go next. Also, your first draft may need a lot more rewriting.)

Plot outlines can also be much longer than synopses. For example, an agent may ask for a synopsis no longer than two to five pages - just enough for them to see you can write a coherent plot. On the other hand, a plot outline can be as short as one paragraph or longer than a hundred pages, if you include detailed character sketches and background material.

Regardless your preference, our advice on synopsis writing can also be used to help you prepare a plot outline.

Comments for Plot Outline vs. Synopsis: What's the Difference

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A more simple way of showing not telling
by: Anonymous

If only these clever people who explain how to write a synopsis gave an actual SAMPLE of a complete synopsis. I could learn foar more with a sample, which would show everything one needs to learn.

Yes, give examples.
by: Anonymous

Yes, am enjoying these articles and I believe they are well-written, concise and helpful but examples will show what you are teaching. Telling is not helpful.

by: Anonymous

I am pleased that this article has set me on the right path
I was writing a plot outline and felt that it was not the kind of thing a publisher would want to see.
You have saved me considerable time and effort.

dif between synopsis and summary
by: Gail

a synopsis the short version of each chapter which describes the plot with a small summary for each scene. It should be written in third person in the present tense and should be approximately 1000 words around 2 or 3 pageslong.
the plot summary its very concise and without everything in each chapter included. It only includes the major points of the plot. it tells what happens ...not chapter by chapter ...but does focus on the all important points. It is a short summary of the entire story.
Additionally it also has its focus on the artistic part of the author or the emotional effect between the characters.
Look up "synopsis for Gone with the Wind" and summary for the same novel and see the difference.
By-the-way. ....The story line is simply one sentence about the book. Its almost like a ptemise. Its always 25 words or less. In Hollywood its called the Logline.

the two are completely different from one another

How to write Synopsis
by: Anonymous

If the writer is worth being called so I think you have given sufficient hints on how to write Synopsis. I read quite a bit of material but after reading your write up, with in three hours I managed to finish synopsis. Thanks

thank you
by: toxie polyn

...there are those that tell us what, we as writers must give them back, be creative helps me to set journey and complete my one that to realize writing this book is a turn and twist that must go 'down and through' without re-emerging. in-depth you find a space you claim you very own when you have landed with a complete novel. synopsis advisers, thank you.

by: Anonymous

Careful here, Summary is a completely different tool than synopsis or outline. Don't confuse the 3 of them.

An Outline is a Summary of every chapter.

Summary is a concise notion of the entire book in about 300 words (you will omit the name of most characters, except of course the lead and co-lead, all the incidents, EXCEPT THE INCITING INCIDENT and the end of the book, no details, just an overbrush of the conflict.

An outline of the book is about one paragraph summarizing chapter one, two etc. Every chapter that represents a movement forward on the plot is given about a paragraph. Chapters that are connective, such as the travelling, the stop to eat Myrtle cakes, don't belong to your outline.

I see articles, not this one, confusing Summary with Synopsis. I recommend visiting Dr.John Yeoman site: it is free, comprehensive and friendly. You'll find specific articles. Good luck to each one of us.

Asked by a British agent for a plot outline
by: Anonymous

I have a synopsis and a chapter outline written but I don't what to submit because I am not familiar with a plot outline. I don't know how to structure it or how long it should be and I have not been able to find any pointers on the author's personal website or with general search queries. You mentioned that some people use the term plot outline and synopsis interchangeably. Do you think this means I could send the synopsis?

to Anonymous
by: Glen

As I mentioned above, some people use the terms synopsis and plot outline to mean the same thing, so you may have what the agent needs.

However, you might want to check the agent's website under "submissions." Some agents specify a format for the outline they want from you, including a maximum length.

Here's an article that might help as well...

Best of luck.

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