The Big Four Spy Genre Plots

The Big Four Plots

  1. The Mission
  2. The Mystery
  3. On The Run
  4. Playing Defence

The Mission

This plot is a straightforward one but it’s also one of the best. The Protagonist is simply given a mission and attempts to carry it out. The Protagonist often works for an espionage agency or a covert military unit and their Prize is successfully achieving the mission.

The Protagonist:

  1. Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
  2. Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
  3. Makes a plan to complete the Mission.
  4. Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
  6. Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
  7. Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
  8. Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist or is captured and escapes.
  9. Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes or fails to complete the Mission.

The Mystery

In the Mystery plot the protagonist investigates a disaster attempting to discover who was responsible. The Protagonist often works for a agency and their Prize is unmasking the Antagonist.

There are elements of mystery in many spy novels, but only some are Mysteries – the prime differentiator is that in a Mystery the Protagonist doesn’t know who the Antagonist is.

The Protagonist:

  1. Discovers a disaster perpetrated by an unknown Antagonist for unknown reasons or is assigned to investigate by their Mentor.
  2. Makes a plan to investigate the tragedy and discover who the Antagonist is.
  3. Investigates and gathers clues suggesting who the Antagonist is.
  4. Is impeded by the Antagonist.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their investigation. Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies.
  6. Attempts to discover further clues to the identity of the Antagonist, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
  7. Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
  8. Discovers the identity of the Antagonist and the reasons for their actions and any wider plan.
  9. Is involved in a final confrontation with the Antagonist and stops or fails to stop them carrying out their plan.

On the Run

The On The Run plot is the basis of many spy thrillers. The Protagonist stumbles on something vital to the Antagonist and has to run for their life with the Antagonist in pursuit. In the On the Run plot, the Protagonist is often a reluctant amateur caught up in events they don’t understand, and their Prize is survival.

There are two subtypes – the Straight Run, and the Conspiracy.

The main difference between a Straight Run and a Conspiracy is whether the Protagonist knows the identity of the Antagonists. The Conspiracy has a Mystery element, as well as evading the Antagonists, the Protagonist has to work out what is going on.

The Straight Run Plot

The Protagonist:

  1. Is involved in an Inciting Incident with a group of Antagonists.
  2. Realises they are not safe from the Antagonists.
  3. Is also not safe from the authorities, as they are tricked or controlled by the Antagonists.
  4. Goes on the run, pursued by both the Antagonists and the authorities.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their escape (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
  6. Narrowly avoids capture and death (or is captured and escapes) by both the Antagonists and the authorities.
  7. Persuades the authorities they should work together to stop the Antagonists.
  8. Confronts the Antagonists and stops (or fails to stop) them.

The ‘Conspiracy’ Plot

The Protagonist:

  1. Witnesses an Inciting Incident with a group of Antagonists.
  2. Realises they are not safe from the Antagonists.
  3. Is also not safe from the authorities, as they are tricked or infiltrated by the Antagonists.
  4. Goes on the run, pursued by both the Antagonists and the authorities.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their escape (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
  6. Narrowly avoids capture and death (or is captured and escapes) by both the Antagonists and the authorities.
  7. Discovers who the Antagonists are.
  8. Persuades the authorities they should work together to stop the Antagonists.
  9. Confronts the Antagonists and stops (or fails to stop) them.

Playing Defence

In the Playing Defence spy novel plot, the Antagonist attacks someone or something important to the Protagonist and the Protagonist tries to defend it. Often the Protagonist works in intelligence or counter-terrorism, and the Protagonist’s Prize is elimination of the threat.

A Playing Defence plot often ends with the Protagonist cornered and having to fight the Antagonist to the death, for example in Skyfall, where Bond ends up defending his childhood home.

The Protagonist:

  1. Is involved in an Inciting Incident caused by the Antagonist.
  2. Makes a plan to stop the Antagonist.
  3. Trains and gathers resources to stop the antagonist.
  4. Involves one or more Allies in their defence. Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies.
  5. Attempts to prevent the Antagonist’s attack, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
  6. Has their plan undercut by the Antagonist attacking differently.
  7. Narrowly fails to stop the Antagonist or stops the Antagonist who then escapes.
  8. Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and stops (or fails to stop) them carrying out their plan.
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