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Synopsis vs. Outline
Vicki Hinze © 2003
a lot of conflicting information out there on the
difference between a Synopsis and an Outline. Many
writers, particularly those in the early stages of their
careers, find this confusing. So what is the difference?
The short answer: A Synopsis is an Overview of the entire
story from beginning to end. An Outline is a breakdown of
the novel from beginning to end by chapter and scene.
Lets explore both a bit.
A decent rule of thumb is 1 page of synopsis for every
10,000 words of manuscript. That's a guide, not set in
stone. If you're smart, you'll find out what length
synopsis the editor you're targeting prefers. Some like
1-2 pages, others want 25. So they're all over the board
In the synopsis, you don't get into deep details; again,
it's an overview. You do want to focus on character and
conflict, and establish the setting and tone of the novel
by writing the synopsis in the same style.
Now, on character, you must show that characters' goals
and motivations. This is how you will, at the end of the
synopsis, show that they have changed as a direct result
of what they've experienced during the course of the
novel. That character growth is what the editor/agent is
looking forto see if it's logical, rational, and
believableas a result of the story events.
Those story events should be as a result of the
characters' motivations and goals. That establishes their
conflicts. Your main characters should have internal and
external conflicts. These should be evident in the
synopsis by what the character encounters in story events
and how the character emotionally/physically/spiritually
reacts to those events.
Again, this is an overview of the novel. It
alwayseven if youve done chapters to send
along with itstarts at the beginning and progresses
through to the end of the story holding all the key
pivotal points in the novel.
This is not an overview document, but an explicit one
that breaks the book down chapter-by-chapter and
scene-by-scene. Consequently, it is usually much longer
than the synopsis. Here, you establish the events and
rational (goals, motivations, and conflicts) of each
scene and the scene resolution. (Note: Theres an
article on the Elements of a Scene that could be helpful
in the Writers Aids Library.)
Scene resolution is NOT conflict resolution. Let's say
the goal of the scene is to find out if a person has
information on the major conflict of the story. In that
scene, the characters interact and the scene concludes.
The resolution of that scene is either the character
wanting the major conflict information got it, didn't get
it, or still doesn't know if the other character has the
information. The scene, not the conflict, resolved.
So in an outline, you work through the scenes, again
including from the beginning of the book all the way
through to the end, providing more detailed information
on each scenes' content. (Which of course, includes
goals, motivation, conflicts--internal and external.)
Now do agents or editors use the terms interchangeably?
Do Agents or editors ever ask for both a synopsis and an
On occasion, yes. And when they do, they are after both
the overview synopsis and the detailed outline.
© Copyright Vicki Hinze 2003. All Rights
Dr. Vicki Hinze is an award-winning,
best-selling author who routinely shares her expertise at
national writers' conferences, online, and through her
writing guides. Her latest non-fiction book is ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL, from Spilled Candy Books for
Writers. This 589-page ebook covers everything you need
to know about the craft of writing, the publishing
business, and the secrets to getting published. ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or
Or you can visit Vicki's author site at www.vickihinze.com
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