Synopsis Example: “The Way, Way Back” (Young Adult / Middle Grade)

Here’s another example of a fiction synopsis. This time it’s THE WAY, WAY BACK (2013), and, yes, the synopsis below has spoilers. If this were a book, it would probably span the bridge between young adult and middle grade. The biggest challenge with this one was cutting down on which characters to give attention to. You’ll notice how the chatty neighbor is not mentioned, nor is Steve Carell’s daughter, and the neighbor friends are barely mentioned. A synopsis is not designed to introduce everyone; it’s designed to show the main characters and the story’s three acts. (See all my synopsis examples here.)

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)


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14-year-old DUNCAN is in a station wagon driven by TRENT, his mother’s boyfriend. Trent questions where Duncan would rank on a scale of 1 to 10, and guesses aloud the boy is a 3. Though Duncan says nothing, the unkind remark hurts him deeply. Along with Duncan’s mother, PAM, the group arrives at an East Coast beach house for summer vacation. While the location is perfect for Trent and Pam, Duncan is terribly out of place, and wishes to be with his father instead. Already socially awkward, Duncan is isolated in town because his mother is frequently off with new friends. He chats up a teenage neighbor, SUSANNA, but his lack of practice meeting girls is evident. Sick of the adult antics, Duncan digs out a bike and begins exploring the town, eventually discovering Water Wizz, a local water park.

The park’s fun-loving man-child owner, OWEN, takes to the awkward Duncan, and offers him a job. Duncan accepts, and begins secretly working at the park, while not telling anyone. Duncan meets the park’s eccentric employees and slowly begins to gain confidence, even earning the employee nickname of “Pop & Lock” after dancing. Water Wizz becomes Duncan’s daily escape, and he takes to Owen as a father figure while also trying to woo Susanna.

As the summer continues, Pam and Trent confront Duncan, saying he is never at the house and acting distant. Duncan accuses them of the same. Tension in the home grows, and gets worse when Duncan sees Trent kissing a neighborhood woman one night (though he stays quiet about it). Later, Pam catches Trent in a lie that reveals his affair. Duncan finally stands up to Trent and shoves him. The two are pulled apart, and Trent reveals to Duncan that he had to spend the summer at the beach because his divorced father did not want him. Later that night, Duncan overhears that his mother will be taking Trent back, and nothing will change.

Duncan seeks comfort in Susanna, who is kind to him, but caught aback when he tries to kiss her. Feeling dejected, he heads to Water Wizz and hangs out at an employee party before spending the night there. In the morning, Duncan opens up to Owen, and explains how the park is the only place he is happy. Owen sympathizes, saying that his relationship with his father led to him disliking rules now. Duncan thanks Owen for everything.

Duncan returns home and apologizes for disappearing, but the damage of the last 24 hours is too great. Pam decides the group should leave the house now and return home early to protect themselves from more conflict. As the awkward drive home begins, Duncan exits the station wagon and runs to nearby Water Wizz, where he completes an amazing water slide challenge employees thought unachievable. Susanna and Duncan finally kiss. Pam finds her son, and sees how he is a beloved employee at the park. Though Pam takes Duncan away back to the car, he feels closure and happiness about the summer. As the drive home begins again, Pam moves from the front (near Trent) to the back (near Duncan), making it clear who is most important in her life, and also hinting that she may leave Trent yet.

(Writing a synopsis for your novel? Here are 5 tips.)

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3 thoughts on “Synopsis Example: “The Way, Way Back” (Young Adult / Middle Grade)

  1. Avatarmikepascale

    I’m very happy you’re doing all these synopses, Chuck, but EVERY one I’ve found on the site for the last year or two have been films! They’re 120-150 pages at best. Most of the writers here are wrestling with novels. How about some BOOK synopses? We want to see how you (or others) condense a 500-1000-page book into 2-5 pages. That is the trick.


  2. AvatarSandgrounder

    I agree with micky640. My first thoughts were “I can’t believe this jumble of words and confusing information attracted an agent.” Taking another look at the last synopsis I wrote, I felt pretty good about it in comparison.


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