This Is a Towel: Resources for Writing Espionage
microsuedemouse asked: Hi there WriteWorld! I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of any references for writing espionage/spy fiction. I’ve been doing some research, but it’s difficult to find resources with useful information. It would be much appreciated, thanks!
Okay, hold your nose because we are about to dive into the deep end of research and resources for thrillers, intrigue, and espionage!
Espionage (n): The practice of spying or of using spies, typically by governments.
Espionage novels, or Spy novels, are typically a sub-genre of Thriller, which is itself a sub-genre of Mystery. Espionage novels also incorporate many themes common to the Adventure novel. These books may assume a whole host of common tropes, absorb plot or character elements from other genres, and base their characters out of real or imagined agencies to prevent/cause mischief.
Let’s take a look at some online resources. While I admit that information may be a bit thin on the ground here, there are definitely some great articles and videos to check out:
- TVTropes: Spy Fiction
- TVTropes: Espionage Tropes
- Wikipedia: Spy Fiction
- How to Write an espionage thriller novel from HubPages
- Writing About Spies: Some Observations from Diplo Denizen
- Five Rules for Writing Thrillers by David Morrell
- How to Write a More Realistic Espionage Story by Jason Boog
- How to Write a Spy Novel by Kathrine Roid
- How to Write an Espionage Novel by Kara Page
- YouTube: BBC Modern Spies - Part 1, Part 2
- YouTube: Spy Documentary - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Now let’s talk about books. Actually going to your library or bookstore (or purchasing books through an e-reader) might be your best bet here. You’re just not going to get the same resources online as you will in a book on this subject. On most subjects, actually. With that in mind, below I have compiled a few lists for you to help get you started on your quest for resources.
Remember, these are lists of lists. You’ve got a lot of digging to do to find the books that will benefit you, and no one can do that digging for you.
A small sampling of the lists of fiction books on espionage for reference:
- NPR: Librarian’s Picks: The Best in Spy Fiction
- GoodReads: Genres: Spy Thriller
- GoodReads: Genres: Espionage
- GoodReads: Best Spy Novels
- GoodReads: Espionage (mostly fiction)
- GoodReads: Best YA Spy/Mystery Novels
- GoodReads: Spy Romance
- GoodReads: Spy Stories With Humor
- GoodReads: Supernatural Spy Books
- GoodReads: Great Books About Spying
- GoodReads: Best prewar spy thrillers
- GoodReads: Literary Spy Stories
- Amazon: Espionage books, my guilty pleasure
A small sampling of the lists of non-fiction books on espionage for research:
- GoodReads: Genres: Espionage Nonfiction
- GoodReads: Best Non-Fiction Espionage Books
- GoodReads: The Read CIA
- LibraryThing: Best Espionage (Non-Fiction)
- Stephen Leary: Best Spy Nonfiction: 2011, 2012
- Amazon: Non-Fiction Espionage Books
- Amazon: Spies, Lies, History, and Mystery!
- Amazon: Greatest Spy And Fed Books(Nonfiction)
- Amazon: Genres: Intelligence & Espionage
- Amazon: Cold War Books: Espionage
- Amazon: Real Spy Thrillers: Polish Espionage Breakthroughs: WWII and Cold War
- Washington Post Short Stack: Five Great Books about Spies and the CIA
A small sampling of the lists of books on how to write thrillers, mysteries, and espionage fiction:
- The Howdunit Series
- The Ingredients of a Good Thriller by Chris Wood
- Writing the Thriller by Trish Macdonald Skillman
- How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters by James N. Frey
- How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript by James N. Frey
- The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing by Michelle Spring, Laurie R. King
- How to Write Killer Fiction: The Funhouse of Mystery & the Roller Coaster of Suspense by Carolyn Wheat
- Write an Award Winning Thriller by Brian N. Cox (Kindle only)
Hopefully that is enough to speed you on your way. Thank you very much for your question, and best of luck on your story! If you have any comments on this article or other questions about writing, you can message us here!