Plot Outline vs. Synopsis: What's the Difference
by Lee Allen
Question: what is the difference between a plot outline and a synopsis?
You may find some people use these terms interchangeably, and some define the terms differently to suit their needs (e.g. www.imbd.com). 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.