descriptors / writers resources

19 Ways to Describe Spies

Digital eye

For the next few months, weekly writing tips will include word choice suggestions. That includes:

  • colorful and original descriptions
  • pithy words and phrases
  • picture nouns and action verbs
  • writing that draws a reader in and addicts them to your voice

I keep a  collection of descriptions that have pulled me into the books. I’m fascinated how authors can–in just a few words–put me in the middle of their story and make me want to stay there. This one’s on how to describe spies.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).


  • Tactical protective eyewear. Designed to protect against sun, wind, dust, and fragment impacts. Also designed for surveillance, a powerful miniature camera
  • You know the game. When they fail to report in, a team will be sent out to check on them. They’ll show up at my place dressed like exterminators, utility workers, or some sort of contractor. They’ll have a big van with a name and backstopped phone number emblazoned along the side
  • Can pull off anywhere. Things like sunglasses, reversible jackets, wearing multiple layers of colored t-shirts, baseball caps, hair ties, and clips, wigs, dye, the whole works.
  • Using different color foundations or shadowing below your eyes to create the illusion of discoloration that comes with age or illness
  • Put everything back exactly as I’d found it
  • No need to hold big binoculars…because tiny micro-cameras that never got tired had replaced them, and listening devices could penetrate windows and walls. Even a small drone looked down with infrared eyes… A computer program mapped the routes and timing of the guard details

Spy tricks

  • Gauged the temperature by how much steam there was off a cup of coffee
  • Pick guns are the way to go for any locksmith. They operate on the laws of physics: action versus reaction, using the transfer of energy to compromise most locks.
  • An hour before you see him, call my number here at the bureau on your cell phone. If you feel things are getting dangerous, show him that you made the call and tell him that we know where you are.
  • Timing my breathing with my steps
  • EagleView Technologies had a satellite mapping service that was similar to Google Maps, but it had more coverage with higher resolution places
  • Carefully wedged the tip of a tube between the door and doorjamb, then worked a glistening bead across the top of the threshold and down the side of the door—to glue the door shut
  • Pulled a small, flesh-colored moleskin bandage off his skin and then brought it out of his pants. Stuck to the inside of it was a tiny micro SD card, roughly the size of a fingernail.  He placed it into an adapter.
  • SPAN was a self-powered wireless ground sensor network. Mann had scattered the tiny sensors like seeds all around the area. Anyone who came near enough to one of the sensors lit up on his monitor.

spywareSpy actions

  • His eyes had the same flat, expressionless gaze that her photos always had. A professional skill learned early. The eyes were indeed the windows to the soul, and one of the first lessons had been that it was best to shutter them at all times
  • Sometimes it’s about blending into a background nobody pays visual attention to, a black waiter in an exclusive country club, a fireman at a four-alarm blaze, a nondescript office worker in an office full of cubicles. Other times it’s about stealth, moving without sound, avoiding quick movements which register on the eyes’ periphery.  Most times it’s about using shadows.
  • Hugged the wall
  • From habit, my mind catalogued the furniture and memorized their placement
  • He carried no electronics. No laptop, no cell phone, no walkie-talkie. He carried no ID. Beside his large-caliber Glock, spare magazines, and a knife, there was nothing on his person that could connect him to anything, anyone or anywhere.

Click for the complete list of 69 writer’s themed descriptions.

Most popular collections:

How to Describe a Landscape

178 Ways to Describe Women’s Clothing

29 Ways to Describe a Headache

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

53 thoughts on “19 Ways to Describe Spies

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  5. Jacqui, I’m still on a long hiatus from social media but always check in on your blog. I just had to comment this time since to my utter pleasure and surprise, I recognized three descriptions from my novel “Dead Reckoning”. Making your illustrious list of writing tips and descriptions is a compliment of the highest caliber. Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish when I started this list, I’d kept authors, but I didn’t. I’m glad you popped in. There are many more snippits from your writing I took note of–in different categories.

      Hope all is going well, Michael.


  6. Jacqui, I knew I’d love this post the minute I read the title. All the apparatus of sleuthing and slinking around – so much fun. I especially like the one, “Most times it’s about using shadows.” That says everything about spying.
    I’m afraid none of this will help me with my writing, however – I haven’t got the mindset for writing spy stories.
    But what a fun post to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is an excellent selection. One I particularly liked:
    ‘His eyes had the same flat, expressionless gaze that her photos always had. A professional skill learned early. The eyes were indeed the windows to the soul, and one of the first lessons had been that it was best to shutter them at all times

    Liked by 1 person

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