iUniverse presents tips on writing espionage

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The espionage genre has been popular since the early 1900s, owing to the international rivalries between European powers that resulted in World War I. Since then, it has flourished through the Cold War to the present day.

iUniverse always enjoys giving guidance on popular genres, and so today we begin giving concrete suggestions on how to write your own spy novel.


Ian Fleming (left), creator of the 007 character, talks with Sean Connery, who portrayed James Bond in the early films.

To begin, iUniverse would like to distinguish between espionage stories and thrillers. While there are numerous dissimilarities, the chief difference between a spy novel and a thriller is that spy novels focus more on creating suspense, while thrillers focus more on constant action. Broadly speaking, spy fiction is somewhere between a mystery and a thriller.

Here is some more specific advice:

How to write characters: don’t tell us too much about your main character at the beginning. Let him unfold along with the story. A good spy is usually not particularly talkative, so don’t make him chatty. He is usually a solitary figure. Remember that he lives in a world where information is sacred – and often deadly. Use the same approach for other characters, letting the reader know them gradually. Preserve anonymity for as long as you can.

Tone: one of the hardest aspects of writing espionage is achieving the right tone. As with the characters, don’t be over-descriptive. The less you tell the reader directly, the more he is drawn into the murky world of spygames. The tone is also unemotional and unsympathetic. Write as though you are telling the story from a distance.

Diction: should not be overwrought. Choose the simple word over the complex one. Words that convey vagueness or murkiness are useful: grey, cold, dark, dim. Think “shade” rather than “colour”. Few things are black-and-white in the world of espionage.

 iUniverse congratulates you on attempting this challenging genre, and will be back with Part Two to discuss further aspects of spy writing. In the meantime, 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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