Synopsis Example: “Matchstick Men” (Mainstream Fiction)

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 Matchstick Men (2003). This story is not quite crime fiction nor literary fiction so I call it mainstream. Notice how, as usual, the most important things to show in a synopsis are the bones of the three acts and the arc of the main character.



ROY WALLER is a con artist. He is also a sufferer of several disorders, including agoraphobia, OCD and a tic disorder—not to mention that he yells “Pygmies!” when something surprises him. Alongside his partner, FRANK, Roy operates a fake lottery, selling overpriced goods to unsuspecting customers. Frank wants to put together a long con, but Roy sticks with bread-and-butter small grifts, having collected more than $1 million from his scams. After Roy experiences a violent panic attack, Frank suggests he see a psychiatrist, DR. KLEIN, who provides Roy with medication.

Dr. Klein contacts Roy’s long-estranged ex-wife and reveals that Roy has a 14-year-old daughter. Roy meets his quirky daughter, ANGELA, but his ignorance about parenting makes their meetings awkward. One night, Angela unexpectedly arrives at Roy’s house, saying that she fought with her mother, and has decided to stay the weekend. After an argument, Roy admits his true profession to her, and Angela is immediately intrigued. He agrees to teach her a con, and their small scam together at a Laundromat goes seamlessly (but Roy makes her return the money).

With Angela’s youthful energy rejuvenating him (and his disorders lessening), Roy questions his lifestyle and debates quitting the grift for good to raise his daughter. Roy agrees to work with Frank on a long con with a big payoff. Stuck in a time crunch, Roy asks Angela to play a part in the scam. The deal goes bad, and the mark, a businessman named FRECHETTE, learns that he’s being swindled. Roy, Frank and Angela manage to escape unharmed. Spooked by the near-disaster, Roy tells Angela to return to her mother and never contact him again.

Without Angela, Roy’s phobias resurface, and during another panic attack, he learns that Dr. Klein’s “medication” is a placebo—proving that he doesn’t need pills to be happy. He invites Angela back into his life and decides to go straight. Roy and Angela return home one night to find Frechette with a gun, alongside a badly beaten Frank. Frechette gets shot, but not before he knocks Roy unconscious. Roy awakens in a hospital, under arrest, where police inform him Frechette is dead, and Frank and Angela have disappeared. Roy gives Dr. Klein access to his bank account, trusting him to give Angela the $1 million when she is found. Later, Roy awakens to find that the “hospital” is fake, “Dr. Klein’s” office is vacant, and his bank account is drained. He realizes that everything was a con orchestrated by Frank, and Dr. Klein, Frechette, the police, and, sadly, even his “daughter,” were only Frank’s accomplices.

A year later, Roy is married and living a quiet life as a salesman at a local carpet store—only to witness “Angela” wandering in one day. Roy confronts Angela but ultimately forgives her, realizing that he is much happier as an honest man. Roy returns home to his new wife, who is pregnant with his child.

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