View Full Version : Lesson Six: Outlining, Synopsis and Query

April 14th, 2009, 12:03 PM
Lesson Six

I left this for the end because I didn't want your creative flow to become bogged down. However, if think you need more direction you can start here and then go to lesson one.

Here's a great article by the fabulous Alicia Rasley.


c. 1998 by Alicia Rasley<O:p></O:p>

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This is a quick exercise designed to sketch out the major events of your novel. It only gives you a map-- you have to make the drive yourself! <O:p></O:p>
Get a kitchen timer or set your alarm. You're going to free-write for three minutes on several questions. (If you want to cheat and write for five minutes on each, go ahead. Just be warned the exercise might take you an hour then.) In free-writing, you put your fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and write, without regard to grammar, spelling, sense, or organization, for a specified period of time. The trick is-- you can't stop till the bell rings. If you can't think of anything to say, you just write your last word over and over. Pretty quick you'll get bored and think of something else to write. But remember, turn off the editor. This is exploration, not real writing. <v:shape style="Z-INDEX: 1; POSITION: absolute; MARGIN-TOP: -196.2pt; WIDTH: 27.75pt; HEIGHT: 33pt; MARGIN-LEFT: -90pt; mso-wrap-distance-left: 0; mso-wrap-distance-right: 0; mso-position-horizontal-relative: text; mso-position-vertical-relative: line" id=_x0000_s1026 alt="compass" type="#_x0000_t75" o:allowoverlap="f"><v:imagedata src="file:///C:\DOCUME~1\POLLYW~1\LOCALS~1\Temp\msohtml1\01\cli p_image002.gif" o:title="compass"></v:imagedata><?xml:namespace prefix = w ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" /><w:wrap type="square"></w:wrap></v:shape>

Type or write the question, then set the clock, read the question allowed, and go.
1. At the start of your book, what distinguishes your protagonist from other people? What central strength does he/she have? How does this strength get him/her into trouble?
Strength: Sue's really good at problem solving. Trouble: She's always being brought in at the last minute to clean up other people's messes.
2. When the novel opens, what is s/he on the brink of doing? Why does he/she say she's going to do this? What does this action represent for the protagonist?
She's just moved into a new town and has volunteered to do the stage managing for the community theater. She says that theater work is fun, and she'll get to make new friends. This represents her attempt to become part of the new community.
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3. What external situation will require the protagonist's participation throughout the course of the book? How does this connect with #2? Does it help or interfere? Can you build in a deadline for extra tension
The community theater's director absconds with all their money. If they don't somehow pull off an economical but successful Hamlet performance in a week, the community theater will go bankrupt.
4. What is the protagonist's goal for the time the book covers? How does this connect with the external situation? Or does the external situation divert the protagonist from his/her goal? Why does the protagonist SAY he/she wants the goal? Is there a deeper motivation as yet unknown to him/her?
She wants to participate in a successful theater presentation. She says it's because it will be good for the community. A deeper motivation is that she needs to be part of a cohesive group or she'll be lonely and lost. All the problems in the external situation will be obstacles to participating in a successful presentation.
5. What problem (external conflict) does the external situation present? How can the protagonist eventually resolve that conflict?
She is dragooned into taking over direction of the community theater's performance of Hamlet one week before the first show, and she's never directed a play before. She's a good problem-solver, and she will use these skills to tackle all the theater's problems.
6. List at least three obstacles in the way of her resolving this conflict. Make one an internal obstacle/conflict.

There's not enough money for costumes.
None of the other actors think Sue can replace the gifted Stockinsky, the former director.
The actor playing Hamlet is a drunk.
Five days before the performance, her mother announces she hates her nursing home and wants to move in with Sue.
The theater's roof is leaking and rain is predicted for performance night.
Internal-- Sue's need to be part of a group and be loved makes it hard for her to take charge and say no.
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7. How will the protagonist grow because of confronting these obstacles?
When she has to fire the drunken Hamlet and replace him with a young inexperienced understudy, she learns to trust her judgment, assert her authority, and risk alienating her fellows. That is, she becomes a leader.
8. What do you want to happen at the end of the book?
I want the production to be successful despite some last-minute problems, and I want her to accept her position as leader.
9. What will have to happen to the protagonist against his/her will to make your ending come about?
Sue will have to get the courage to fire the popular Hamlet actor and still use her people skills to rally the shocked cast. She'll also have to inspire the understudy to a great performance.
(As you can see, this will outline a plot driven by the protagonist's motivation and interaction with the world. Please note, not all books rely so heavily on the protagonist's personality. This works best with popular genre novels or novels with a "quest" structure. But the answers to these questions can help you determine where you're going and how you're going to get there.)
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Okay, half hour's up. Now how do you make a story out of this? Think of the answers to Questions 1 and 2 as your starting point. The answer to Question 8 is your ending point (all subject to change, of course!); everything else is landmarks along the way.
Use 2 to craft an opening scene that involves the reader right away. A character on the brink of some action provides a lot of forward momentum. Consider, for example, Sue's desire to join the community theater group as stage manager. That action can involve the reader in the external situation described in 3 (the former director absconding with the funds), and/or be in pursuit of the goal you defined in 4. If it happens, what unforeseen consequences does it have? (For example, she might start as stage manager and realize the director is a fraud.)
If it doesn't happen, what has prevented it? (Maybe she wants to be stage manager, but arrives just after the director scarpers, and because she has some theater experience, they make her director instead of stage manager.) Now what is the protagonist going to do?
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Answer 4 gives the protagonist's intended destination. Consider why the protagonist wants to achieve this goal, and how pursuit of it will involve him/her further in the external situation described in 3. (She wants a successful production enough to agree to be director.) How is the goal related to answer 1, whatever sets this person apart from everyone else? (Her reputation as a "hands-on problem-solver" has been established in her job as a trouble-shooter for a local software company, so she knows she can be a good stage-manager.)
The goal can be related to the external situation, but probably include some internal component too (she wants to become part of the community quickly so she won't feel lonely and lost). The obstacles too might arise from the external situation as well as from within.
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# 6 lists obstacles to the resolution of the conflict. Which are external (the drunken actor, mom's sudden and disruptive arrival)? Which are internal (her inability to say no, her guilt over mom)? How do these relate to the external situation?
Sketch at least one scene around each of these -- or toss a couple out and have a single obstacle repeatedly plague the protagonist. Show the protagonist encountering each obstacle, taking stock, and acting or reacting. Probably the obstacle will win at least once. See if you can make these ascend in order of emotional risk– that is, make taking on the first obstacle (no money for costumes) less of an emotional gamble than the next (having to ask the carpenter she kind of has a crush on to fix the roof for free). The last obstacle should require her to make a huge emotional gamble, one she couldn't have made at the beginning of the story but must do now that she has so much invested (she risks alienating the entire cast and the community by firing the popular actor).
Then what? The special quality you defined in 1 should come into play here (problem-solving skills)-- and the issue/problem you have noted in this character (overwhelming desire to be liked). What will cause self-doubt and failure? What will bring back confidence? Can you show a gradually ascending level of achievement, as small defeats are overcome to bring on small victories? What's important is to make the interaction with the obstacles individual to this character, and the success or failure have some effect on him/her-- the growth (positive or negative) you described in 7.
Will the external conflict be resolved? Either way, the attempts to resolve the conflict can be the climb up to the climax. The special quality and motivation of the protagonist, the most difficult obstacle, an important event in the external situation, and the goal, can all meet and explode in the climax (she fires Hamlet and brings on the young understudy, whom she has secretly coached, and faces down the cast mutiny).
In the resolution, however, your own ending takes over. The resolution of the conflict can be fulfilling or empty– she can have a great production and go home to an empty house. (Or one with a petulant mom in it.) Or she can use her new-found "just-say-no" ability to gently guide mother to another, more appealing nursing home, and her old "just-say-yes" ability to start a new relationship with the generous carpenter. <v:shape style="WIDTH: 420pt; HEIGHT: 8.25pt" id=_x0000_i1029 alt="" type="#_x0000_t75"><v:imagedata src="file:///C:\DOCUME~1\POLLYW~1\LOCALS~1\Temp\msohtml1\01\cli p_image004.gif" o:href="http://www.sff.net/gfx/lines/bar_purple.gif"></v:imagedata></v:shape>
Just remember, your ending is going to help determine the message your reader will retain after closing the book, so make it fit your theme. (In this case, maybe, "Successful leadership sometimes depends on making the appropriate but unpopular decision.")
And keep in mind, this is only an exercise, not a set of rules. Use what is illuminating, discard everything else. Your novel should find its own path. But knowing where you're going and some of the landmarks you'll pass can make the journey a little less daunting.
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April 14th, 2009, 12:05 PM
Here is a wonderful article by Dr. Vicki Hinze on synopsis vs. outline.

Synopsis vs. Outline
by Vicki Hinze © 2003
There’s 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.

Let’s 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 on preferences.

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 for—to see if it's logical, rational, and believable—as 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 always—even if you’ve done chapters to send along with it—starts 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: There’s 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? Seldom.

Do Agents or editors ever ask for both a synopsis and an outline?

On occasion, yes. And when they do, they are after both the overview synopsis and the detailed outline.
© Copyright Vicki Hinze 2003. All Rights Reserved
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 (http://www.spilledcandy.com/) as a download or disk.

Or you can visit Vicki's author site at www.vickihinze.com (http://www.vickihinze.com/)

April 14th, 2009, 01:00 PM
Query letter
This is from Charlotte Dillion.

The Power of a Query Letter

I used to hate publishing houses -- this can fit for an agent too -- that only allowed writers to send in a query letter. I
mean, come on, how can they tell how I write, just from a query letter? At least give me a chance to show I can
write, that I can tell a good story! BUT... you knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you?

Picture a skilled editor with a full query letter in hand. She has probably seen thousands of them. Think of how much
she can learn about you and your book -- and your writing -- from that one page query letter. It sure must make her
job a lot easier. For starters, did you send a nice clean letter? Is it in proper format? Are your thoughts clear, your
writing tight? Is it addressed to Dear Editor, or to her personally by title and name? Did you add every thing into
that query that you should? Is it five pages long when the house's guidelines state one page only? Is it letter perfect,
with no spelling or grammar mistakes? If the writer who sent her the query letter didn't even bother to do this much
right, what are the chances that a manuscript from that person will be any better? Most editors don't have time to
take chances.

If you write your query the way you should, in the first few sentences that editor will learn the name of your story, the
length, the genre, the line you are targeting, and be assured that the manuscript is completed. So, if it's not
completed, and scanning your query shows you have never sold novel-length fiction, she can probably toss your
query to the rejection pile. There are 200 other query letters sitting there from writers with completed manuscripts
and perfect query letters. Too, if her house only buys contemporaries that have a word count between 60,000 and
80,000, and you list yours as 100,000 words, and it's set in 1850 on top of that, then first off, you didn't bother to
study the market, and secondly it wouldn't fit her house anyhow, so she can toss this query as well. Just with that first
paragraph, the editor has been able to move a lot of those query letters off of her desk, and she never needed to
even read the synopsis of the story.

Next in the query letter is your pitch about your story. You have to make this short and sweet, and still grab her
interest. Think of this as being the blurb on the back of a novel. How many times have you read a book's back
cover and set the book back on the shelve, or placed it into your buggy, making that decision just from those couple
of paragraphs? If the editor doesn't like your writing style, or if she has just bought a story with the same plot line,
then she can toss this query too. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Reading</st1:place></st1:City> further won't do her any good, or you.

Last in your letter are a few lines to brag about yourself. Come on, you have something positive you can add. Have
you published any thing, been writing for ten years, are you a member of RWA, part of a critique group, placed in a
writing contest? Anything good at all you can add, to give you a little glow is perfect for here, like if your story has a
heroine who is a nurse, and guess what, you are a nurse. Some things that will probably get your query tossed on
this part is if you add something like... I know you will think this is the very best book you have ever read! Or...
My mom and sister both loved this story so much, they said it just has to be published and should sell millions of
copies! Or how about... How much will I be paid for this, and when will the check get here?

So you see, that query letter, only a single page long, that most of us just hate to write, can tell an editor (or agent)
everything she needs to know about you and your manuscript -- at least every thing she needs to know to decide if
she should bother with reading chapter one.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>
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April 14th, 2009, 01:00 PM
Charlotte Dillon's Sample Query Letter

Sample Query Letter<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>
Your Name
Home Phone


Editor's Name
Assistant Editor
Silhouette Books
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">300 E. 42nd Street</st1:address></st1:Street>
6th Floor
<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">New York</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">NY</st1:State> <st1:PostalCode w:st="on">10017</st1:PostalCode></st1:place>

Dear Ms. Name, Never just use Dear Editor

To start off, give the name and length and type of manuscript you are sending.
A COWBOY'S WILL is a completed 57,000 word contemporary romance set in <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Louisiana</st1:place></st1:State>. This story is targeted
for the Silhouette Desire line.

Next add the meat of your query... Remember that teaser on the back of the book. You don't have much more
room than that. A good query should be no more than one page long.
Grady Reid was a good man, and somewhat of a match maker. He was also the closest thing to family Cody
Lawrence had. When Grady died, he left half of his cattle ranch to Cody. Grady left the other half to his only
grandchild, Blair Taylor from <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">New York</st1:place></st1:State>. They would each get their half, but only if they spent a month together on
the ranch. Problem was, a month could seem like a lifetime when two people were so different, and disliked each
other as much as Blair and Cody did.

This is where you brag. Add anything that shows you are a serious writer who has studied her craft.
I have been writing for almost ten years. Romance is my first love, though for now it is freelance writing that helps to
pay the bills. Over the years Iā€™ve completed a few other romance novels, some historical. I've been a member
of Romance Writers of America, Southern Louisiana Romance Writers, a number of on-line writer's groups, and of
a wonderful critique group where I was fortunate to work with a published author. I'm proud to add that this
manuscript was a finalist this year in the Molly writing contest.

Don't forget the SASE, and don't forget the thank you!
If you are interested, I will gladly send you either the first three chapters of this story, or the complete manuscript. I
have enclosed a synopsis and a SASE for your reply. If you prefer, you can send an e-mail. Thanks very much for
your time and consideration.

Your name<o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
Copyright © 2002 by Charlotte Dillon.
All rights reserved.<o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>

April 14th, 2009, 01:05 PM
Another writer's way to write query letters.

How to Write a Query Letter<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

By Anthony S. Policastro (http://www.ehow.com/members/aspolicastro.html), eHow Editor Rate: <INPUT id=2144260_1 onmouseover=ratingsOver(2144260,1) onmouseout="ratingsOut(2144260, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0)" onclick="return rA(2144260, 1)" src="http://i.ehow.com/images/stars/star-1-2.gif" type=image itxtvisited="1"><INPUT id=2144260_2 onmouseover=ratingsOver(2144260,2) onmouseout="ratingsOut(2144260, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0)" onclick="return rA(2144260, 2)" src="http://i.ehow.com/images/stars/star-1-2.gif" type=image itxtvisited="1"><INPUT id=2144260_3 onmouseover=ratingsOver(2144260,3) onmouseout="ratingsOut(2144260, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0)" onclick="return rA(2144260, 3)" src="http://i.ehow.com/images/stars/star-1-2.gif" type=image itxtvisited="1"><INPUT id=2144260_4 onmouseover=ratingsOver(2144260,4) onmouseout="ratingsOut(2144260, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0)" onclick="return rA(2144260, 4)" src="http://i.ehow.com/images/stars/star-1-2.gif" type=image itxtvisited="1"><INPUT id=2144260_5 onmouseover=ratingsOver(2144260,5) onmouseout="ratingsOut(2144260, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0)" onclick="return rA(2144260, 5)" src="http://i.ehow.com/images/stars/star-1-0.gif" type=image itxtvisited="1">(3 Ratings) <o:p></o:p>
You have spent months, maybe years creating your novel and now you are ready to pitch it to a literary agent. You will need to write a query letter capturing your entire book in a 1-page letter. Agents are extremely busy and the average agency receives up to 100 queries a day. A well-written query will get the attention of the agent over the hundreds of others.<o:p></o:p>
<!-- clear floats -->Instructions<o:p></o:p>

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A good pen or pencil <o:p></o:p><!-- Things You'll Need (List Item) -->
A computer <o:p></o:p><!-- Things You'll Need (List Item) -->
A word processor program <o:p></o:p>
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Write a short 2 paragraph summary of your novel’s storyline. Make every word count and remember the entire query letter should be 1 page. Write what your book is about--the main point of your plot or characters. Your description is really a hook--an idea, a plot or a character so interesting that the agent must see your manuscript. <o:p></o:p>
To get an idea of how to write your book’s description, read the book cover flap on several novels similar in genre to yours, such as literary, romance or thriller. Read the advertising copy found in bookstores or bookstore websites describing a particular book that is similar to yours. <o:p></o:p>
Write the next paragraph about how your book is similar to bestselling books and authors. If your book is about religion and high tech, you might say "My book is like Dan Browne and Michael Crichton teamed up to write a thriller." <o:p></o:p>
Write about the market for your book. Do a little research on the Internet on who would buy your book based on what is selling now. <o:p></o:p>
Write a sentence or two on your writing background, what you have published or if you worked for a publication, school newspaper, magazine or even if you wrote newsletters for an organization. Don’t fret if you have never published anything. You can write about your work background and why you are qualified to write your novel. Also, include the genre of your book if it is romance, literary fiction, a thriller or women’s fiction. <o:p></o:p>
Tell the agent where you found out about them and why you think they would be interested in your book. <o:p></o:p>
Ask the agent if they would be interested in seeing a few chapters or the entire manuscript. Include the number of words of your book and that you would be happy to send it to them. <o:p></o:p>
Always include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your letter so that the agent can respond to you one way or the other.<o:p></o:p>
You did it! Your manuscript is finished! You've read over it -- and over it -- fixed any mistakes, and now it's time
to show an editor or agent how great of a story you have completed. Most publishers and agents no longer let you
send them your whole manuscript, or even the first three chapters. A growing number only want to see a query
letter, or maybe a query and a short synopsis.

So, how do you write a query letter? It's not that hard. Just remember to point out the main idea of your
story as clearly as you can, with as few words as possible. Thinks of those great teasers you read on the back of
romance books. Next, toot your own horn -- loudly. Been published before? Won a writing award? Have a degree in
English? Is your hero a cop, and so are you, or your husband? Mention anything that might make you and your
work stand out.

To get you started I've placed one of my own query letters below, and added a few how-to links and some links
to a few books that might help also.

April 14th, 2009, 01:06 PM
This is our last lesson.

Thank you so much for attending this workshop.

I'm here to answer your questions about any of the lesson's I've posted or any writing question you have.


Eva Lefoy
April 15th, 2009, 02:02 AM
Thanks for the tips, Tambra.

I hope I get to the query, outline, synopsis stage some day.

Thanks for coming and doing the class. Sorry I wasn't here this weekend, I was out of town w/no computer. (which is both a blessing and a curse!)


April 15th, 2009, 08:33 PM
Hi Yakkity,

Thanks so much for participating. I hope you find the information useful.

Please stay in touch. I'm here in the author section.

Hugs and take care,

Reviewer Danielle
April 16th, 2009, 09:43 AM
This is our last lesson.

Thank you so much for attending this workshop.

I'm here to answer your questions about any of the lesson's I've posted or any writing question you have.


Thanks so much for the help! I just got caught up with all your lessons. Had a death in the family and things have been hectic trying to get through the trip, viewing, funeral, and then catching up with all the book reviews I was behind in. Just wanted to give a huge thank you for sharing all your tips! I will make sure to check them out as I struggle through more novels and novellas. If I ever do finish one and get it published I will definitely have you to thank for all your help! I appreciate it Tambra.

April 18th, 2009, 02:07 PM
Boy I love this outline in thirty min. I need to post this on my fridge.