Plot Outline vs. Synopsis

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. However, 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

Click here to add your own comments

Oct 07, 2011
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.

Apr 02, 2012
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.

Aug 15, 2012
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.

Jan 17, 2014
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

Sep 26, 2014
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

Nov 23, 2015
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.

Mar 23, 2016
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.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Plot Invite.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero