How to Write a Spying Scene


Part One

  1. What is the mission and are they going alone? How dangerous?

»A. The key to writing a good spy novel is to put in plenty of twists and turns. Take a quick look at your plot, is it straightforward and predictable? If so, change it up a bit.

I. The art of being a spy is the art of not being noticed; plain and simple. Most of the time, spying is all about secretly gathering intelligence, or information, about enemies and their plans. The reader doesn’t need to know about the mission or see it until much later, but you should have somewhere you’re leading both the protagonist and the reader. 

Possible Missions:

  • Maybe s/he has to steal the blueprints of an very powerful enemy tank, before they can mass produce it and use it against his nation.
  • Or the spy, has to retrieve some papers or a recording that are top secret, from the enemy.
  • A young girl is being kidnapped and taken to another country. Possibly she comes from a wealthy family.
  • Spies could infiltrate the enemy and help provide them with false information, and actually help to destroy their plans.


II. How old are the spies? Are they male and female? Just guys? Just gals? A mission can only be appropriate if it fits with the people. But you can still do anything from saving puppies to rescuing someone from a group of psycho aliens.


»B. How do they prepare?

I. Real life spies don’t do anything like you see in the movies. They don’t carry weapons, they don’t have fancy gadgets, they don’t drive cool-looking cars, and they don’t walk into a casino, dressed in a tuxedo, and say, “Lemon martini, shaken, not stirred.” In fact, real life spies work very hard not to draw attention to themselves. They work at ordinary jobs, drive ordinary cars, and live in ordinary apartments. They spend their time listening to radio broadcasts, reading newspapers, and talking to people, picking up and sorting out information readily available to anyone. No spy cameras and no wild fling encounters.

The qualifications are simple. The character needs to be very good with foreign languages, very “personable,” (the kind of individual whom people feel comfortable talking to) and very observant. 

Although, few spies have contact with agents, instead they are watching, listening, and taking all the recorded information trying to put it together to see what the person being spied on is doing.

II. You can also create a school of training that tells the spies how to use dead drops to pass information, how to follow a suspect or, or how to make a brush pass; the actual activities and physical actions of a spy.


Part Two

    1. What gadgets, training and skills have they’ve collected for this mission.

»A. You can create your own or use what’s known by the masses.

I. Advanced devices, like an ordinary object that is a spying device at the same time Example : a pen that is a radar, a chewing gum that explodes, a wristwatch that can be used as a weapon or camera.  

II. Real life spies ALREADY come to spy agencies with special skills, knowledge, and abilities. For example, they may be people adept at learning languages, martial arts, they may have very strong social skills which make others feel comfortable and willing to talk, or they may have a photographic memory.  


»B. Sometimes they need to be innovative.

I. So what kind of spy are they? Hired with access to endless replacement gadgets or self managed and need to think outside the box? They may have to use a glass cup placed against the door or a wall to listen to what is going on on the other side, or a special, expensive, equipment to do the same thing. But if they lose it without a replacement, it could be downhill from there. Lastly, they could interview the target’s friends and see what they are doing, or better yet, interview friends’ cousin’s brother’s girlfriend to see what they are doing. (Never can have enough information!)

Low income spies may watch what the person is doing with their eyes.  Higher paying spies use cameras or even spy satellites to do the same thing. But remember, technology doesn’t make the spy, the person makes the spy. It is a question of how they use the technology and how resourceful they are.  


Part Three

    1. How do they stay out of trouble, out of sight? How do they stay alive?

»A. This is where the gadgets and skills come into play.

I. Use misdirection. Somewhere, somehow, someone is going to need to go left when they should have turned right. Planning comes in handy here, so that you know when your spy will escape (as well as where he’s going) but your reader doesn’t know that yet.  

II. How do they avoid the foreign government from knowing that they are spies? How do the governments know if that person is a spy?

Also, think of ideas for:
– Cover homes (Small apartment, big apartment, house, luxury hotel, etc.)

As far as cover homes go it would depend on the mission. If the spy needs to convince someone he’s a high roller he’ll have a big mansion. If he needs to gain the trust of a low level government employee a small apartment would be ideal.
– Cars (cheap cars, moderate cars, SUVs, luxury vehicles, etc.)

Same with the cars. The cover job would have to be one that put the spy in close proximity to the information they are gathering.
– Covers (Teacher, businessman, etc.)

A lot of spies live undercover identities. They have jobs, homes and sometimes families completely separate from their job. The government provides them with legitimate documents for their cover IDs.




Part Four

    1. Can they manage to collect what they need? How much longer until they succeed?

»A. Failure isn’t an option for spies. How far will your character go and how much will they risk to successfully complete the mission?

I.  To prevent failure, spies make thorough notes and keep records.  They check the little details and keep track of there mistakes to learn from them. Then they check all those records to see what is wrong, what is different. The constant observation tells them what the people are doing and the little differences tell them when someone is lying or trying to hide something.  

II. Spies need to watch other people. They watch to see if they are doing something interesting or novel and new. Spies also listen; they bug telephones, they over hear conversations and they observe what people are saying. Record and report to their employer.


III. Success isn’t proven until a sure thing is made. All of what the spy was hired for is theory until they get the evidence. Sometimes officials and spies can get situations wrong or mix up innocent people. So ONE of the most important thing that the character needs to do is to catch the person in the act.



»B. How does your character obtain the needed info, then?

I. They could get witness testimony, but witnesses aren’t always ideal. They don’t remember things the same way, they have different points of view, and rarely do their stories agree. Sometimes they think they see something or sometimes they just lie.

A spy is trained to not make those mistakes. They observe, and get a good description. They look for details that describe the person or the event, details that make the person or event unique. A suspect wearing a suit is very common, but if the suit has a purple tie with a penguin on it then they have narrowed it down. So once again it comes down to observation.  



Part Five

    1. When the mission is complete they need to get out of there undetected. Can they manage? Does anything go wrong? Do they lose a part of what they came for?

»A. Complete the mission, fellow spy.

I.  The mission itself shouldn’t be overly complicated. Trying to write out convoluted plot and sticking to it will be tedious, so keep it simple at first then add subplots and intersecting storylines.  For example, if their mission is to recover a particular item, then the item could be stolen from the person they’re trying to recover it from.

II. Lastly, if the spy is caught they will probably be jailed or killed.



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2 thoughts on “How to Write a Spying Scene

  1. I wanna thank you for this amazing site. I’m writing a novel from the killer(s) POV and I’ve been on a lot of websites, but this is the best one for writing scenes that I’ve ever been on. You have so much detail and fantastic questions. Thank you again.

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