iUniverse presents tips for writing spy novels, part 2

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iUniverse continues with its discussion of how to write great spy fiction. Here are some further recommendations from iUniverse:

Rival organizations: a rival organization should be shrouded in mystery. If it is a foreign government, make the actually enemies one of that government’s departments. Alternatively, there can be an independent mercenary organization, as with SMERSH and SPECTRE in the 007 films. Your opponents should be portrayed as clever, self-controlled, and ruthless. Eccentricities will help give your villains more personality.


Novelist John le Carre

Settings: spy stories thrive on settings which are unusual to both the characters and the reader. Cold War spy fiction involved numerous Eastern European cities that were closed to the West. Try to choose settings which are exotic or at least unusual – and as little-known as possible. Cities work better than the countryside, as cities give a sense of anonymity. Within them, there are opportunities for dark parking garages, alleyways, twisting roads, and abandoned apartments.

Clarity: part of writing spy fiction involves keeping secrets from the reader, or at least withholding information. However, if you find your novel getting too convoluted, simplify it. Readers may find a riddle to be entertaining, but if it is too confusing, they will stop coming back for more chapters – and more books.

Suggestions for spy reading:

The two main pillars of spy fiction are John le Carre and Ian Fleming, who have different approaches to the genre. Le Carre takes an extremely subtle approach, verges on being confusing, and inserts very little action. His type of espionage is very cerebral and personality-related. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a challenging book, as le Carre is very indirect in the way he relates a tale and can be inordinately obscure at times.

In contrast, Ian Fleming’s works are told in a much more linear fashion, with fewer attempts to keep the reader in the dark. They are more readable and lean towards being “thrillers”, while le Carre’s works would be towards the “mystery” side of the spectrum. Other espionage writers fall between the two.

One final note: there are many lists of great spy novels, but do beware of The Riddle of the Sands, which is often included. Most of the story is about steering a boat: it is more of a novel about sailing than about spying!

iUniverse has enjoyed this opportunity to tell you more about writing espionage. Make sure to check out the iUniverse site for more advice and blogs, as well as iUniverse Facebook and iUniverse Twitter.


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