What Is Spy Fiction?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Spy fiction is a genre of literature that focuses on the activities of spies and general tales of espionage. The plot can be based on real events, and the characters can be based on real people, but the plot line and characters by definition will have differences to distinguish them from real people or events. The details of a plot and characters can vary significantly from work to work. Spy fiction dates back as far as the mid to late 19th century and continues to be written in modern times.

Like other types of fiction, spy fiction will follow a narrative, which is a story told either by a narrator or by a character. The story will feature at least one main character, and often several more, and the plot can take place in one setting or several different settings. The high intensity nature of spy work and espionage usually means several settings will exist, as will numerous characters. The plot usually involves one or more characters going on some sort of adventure in which a battle between good versus evil eventually ensues.


The most prominent times for spy fiction to become popular are often times of war among two or more countries, as these times tend to pique the interest of the general public about the less overt tales of war. During and after World War II, the genre flourished as it did some time later during the Cold War. The genre tends to fade a bit during peace times, but the genre does not disappear entirely.

Some of the most famous spy fiction of the 20th and 19th centuries endured long after the time period in which they were written. Famous spies include James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, both fictional characters who continue to maintain devout followers in the reading world. Spy fiction tends to translate well into film adaptations, which explains the prevalence of both characters in pop culture.

The events in a spy fiction novel can often lead to violence, so readers who are sensitive to blood and fighting may be turned off by such writing. It is inevitable for some characters to be killed, sometimes graphically, due to the nature of espionage.


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Post 3

@Iluviaporos - Motive is so incredibly important to me in a good spy novel. The best spy fiction books always have some kind of personal angle.

I think that's why the whole amnesia plot line is so popular. It gives the person a reason to have suddenly found a family and a lot of things to lose and then they have to fight in order to keep them.

Post 2

@Mor - It's an interesting idea, but it's not really enough to make a story. The best spy fiction will almost always have really interesting characters and tension from their actions. It's not enough to have an idea for a set up without any tension. Would we be seeing from the point of view of the spies or the rich men, or one of the politicians or someone else?

That's the kind of idea that you keep in the back of your mind until it meets another idea, like maybe someone decides they are going to get revenge on the rich guys and tracks them all down and they have to use their spies and assassins to protect themselves.

Then there

is tension, because you don't know what the outcome is going to be. If you want a contemporary example, it would be like trying to make a story out of the group in Kill Bill before they fell apart. It would basically just be a couple of hours worth of them spying on and killing people with no motive except money and no drama at all.
Post 1

My dad had a really great idea for a spy fiction novel or movie once. I wish that one of us was capable of writing that kind of thing because I'd like to see it.

In his idea, there was a group of people who were rich and bored and they would basically hire spies and assassins to murder prominent political figures. There was no political agenda, they were just trying to get points in order to brag to the other rich people.

I don't read a lot of spy stories myself though, so for all I know that idea has already been done.

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