Synopsis Example: “Courage Under Fire” (Thriller / Mystery)

Here’s another example of a fiction summary, which can be used as a guide for writing your novel synopsis. (See all my synopsis examples here.) This time it’s Courage Under Fire (1996).

This story seems like a thriller to me because of its action sequences, but it’s also a mystery at heart, with a “detective” (Denzel) investigating a case. Notice how I leave out several secondary characters to keep the story moving.



Nathaniel SERLING is an Army lifer in his 40s. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, he commands a tank battalion. In nighttime combat, Serling accidentally fires upon a U.S. tank, killing fellow Americans. Upon returning home, he learns his accident was covered up by superiors. Later, Serling is assigned to determine if Army Captain KAREN WALDEN should be the first woman to (posthumously) receive the Medal of Honor. Serling hears a loose account of what happened to Walden: A Medevac Huey commander, Walden piloted a rescue helicopter in Desert Storm that saved American soldiers during a skirmish. After protecting the lives of two crews, Walden was killed by Iraqi gunfire before others were airlifted to safety.

Next Serling visits Walden’s crewmembers for their accounts. He speaks with ILARIO, a jittery medic. Ilario’s recollection is straightforward and almost overly simple. He says their rescue helicopter crashed in battle while protecting soldiers, and before everyone escaped the next morning, Walden showed bravery prior to losing her life. Serling next visits the brash helicopter gunman, MONFRIEZ, whose account completely contradicts earlier versions. Monfriez claims Walden was a coward all the way up to her death.

Serling isn’t sure who’s lying, but he has other problems now. A REPORTER is hounding him to comment on his friendly fire incident in Iraqthe same incident that guilts Sterling during his days and wakes him at night. Serling takes solace in alcohol (a long-running battle), and starts to neglect his family. He wishes to come clean about Iraq, but his Army superiors instruct him to stay quiet.

Under pressure from his bosses and The White House to sign off on Walden’s award, Serling refuses, wanting to complete his assignment with no inaccuracies or lies. He confronts Monfriez again. Monfriez hints that everyone is lying about Walden because the truth is horrible. Monfriez pulls a gun and kills himself. Serling locates the medic Ilario again (after Ilario went AWOL), and the truth about Walden and the rescue is finally revealed. Once Walden and the rescue crew crashed, the crew wanted to leave the dying behind and make a run for it. Walden said no. The crew then staged a mutiny and even shot Walden accidentally. The next morning, the crew left Walden at the combat zone and lied to rescuers, saying she was “dead.” Airplanes napalmed the wreckage (and the injured Walden with it).

Serling presents his report. Walden’s young daughter receives the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony. Later, Serling tearfully confesses to parents of soldiers that he is responsible for their boys’ deaths. The Reporter from before releases his story, but the piece actually praises Serling. It turns out that after Serling’s friendly fire mistake, he regrouped quickly and saved the lives of numerous other Americans with quick thinking. With his guilt finally lessening, Serling returns home to his wife and children.

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