U.N.C.L.E. the Show
Background and History
Contributors Behind the Scene
The Return Movie
WRITING U.N.C.L.E. - RESEARCH : BASIC EQUIPMENT
When an U.N.C.L.E. agent in the field needs some information, he contacts headquarters, queries Section Four, and lo and behold, gets his answer in an hour or so. Unfortunately, for U.N.C.L.E. writers, there are no Wandas or Sarahs standing by, waiting for our requests. When we're out there in the middle of a story, we're on our own. So, a basic research library is essential equipment. Here are some suggestions:
Even if you're a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist, you can't write U.N.C.L.E. stories without knowing something about guns. Armed and Dangerous by Michael Newton (ISBN: 0-89879-370-X) is a decent start. At the very least, it compares various kinds of weapons so you can tell the difference between an automatic and a revolver. However, what you really need is a book with photos so you can actually see what individual guns look like. Also, you'll need to know calibers (power), feed (how many shots you have until you need to reload) and range (the furthest distance at which you can hit something). Look for illustrated books like Modern Rifles & Sub-Machine Guns (ISBN: 0-8317-5055 -3) or The World's Great Small Arms (ISBN: 1-56619-205-6). These books are usually found on the sale and remainder tables at chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble.
U.N.C.L.E. agents get injured and in fan stories, they tend to get injured a lot! The Red Cross First Aid and Personal Safety manual can give you basic info on drowning, gunshot wounds etc., but for more detail, stock up on volumes of the Nurse's Reference Library. These fat volumes run about $25 apiece but they're well worth the money. The most useful volumes are Emergencies (ISBN: 0-916730-85-9 --- lots of diagrams and photos of major injuries) and Treatments (ISBN: 0-87434-124-8). There are two relevant books published by Writer's Digest in this area: Cause of Death by Keith D. Wilson (ISBN: 0-89879-524-9) and Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens (ISBN: 0-89879-371-8).
U.N.C.L.E. agents are globetrotters by definition and you never know where the next mission will be. Make the effort to comb used book sales for old travel guides (especially those written in the 60's). The small guides for travellers published by Berlitz are particularly helpful because along with some useful phrases, they also offer info on local food, sightseeing, hotel accommodations and how to call for a doctor. For individual cities, the red Baedeker pocket guides come complete with detailed maps. However, for more esoteric info not found in the usual Fodor's, check out the Insight Guides published by APA Productions (Prentice-Hall Press) and the Through the Back Door series (John Muir Productions; distributed by W.W. Norton & Co.) And, if you've never been to New York City or haven't visited lately, pick up the new Manhattan Up Close (ISBN: 0-8442-9450-0) a truly wondrous book that offers three-dimensional maps of New York street by street, based on aerial photographic surveys. Passport Books also publishes "up close" guides to London and Paris.
Finally, if you work for a fairly large corporation (or know someone who does) borrow or steal an old copy of the Official Airline Guide (one edition for domestic; one for worldwide). These look like fat telephone books and list airline schedules (so you know long it takes to get from here to there) and offer all sorts of flying info.
In addition to going to a lot of places, U.N.C.L.E. agents meet a lot of people. How can you know you're naming characters correctly? Baby name books are great resources for first names and local telephone books can give you last names. However, if you want something more exotic (or at least multi-cultural) pick up Baby Names From Around the World by Maxine Fields (ISBN: 0-671-54382-2) or The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling (ISBN: 0-8160- 2699-8).
Every U.N.C.L.E. writer needs a good Russian dictionary, preferably one that provides a phonetic pronunciation for the words (it's distracting for readers to decode words written in Cyrillic letters). Basic language guides (Berlitz is the best) in French, Spanish and German are good to have around. If you intend to write for Mark Slate, a British phrasebook can add a touch of veracity to the dialogue. (Passport Books has a British/American dictionary: ISBN: 0-8442-9104-8).
But hey --- people don't always speak politely, y'know? They use slang, colloquialisms, and profanity. To make international dialogue more real, you might peruse the series of little "Wicked" books (ie: Wicked French, Wicked Spanish, Wicked German, etc. --- NY: Workman Publishing), or seek out guides on slang like Streetwise French and More Streetwise French by David Burke (ISBN: 0-471-62876-X & 0-471-50771-7) and profanity like Merde and Merde Encore! by Genevive (ISBN: 0-689-11649-7 & 0-207-15272-1).
Deborah Tannen's bestseller, You Just Don't Understand (ISBN: 0-688-07822-2) is an eye-opener. Tannen's basic premise is that men and women communicate differently, so all communication between the sexes is really cross-cultural communication. Although the author is an academic, the book is very readable and funny (and true!). Highly recommended --- after reading it, you'll never write conversations quite the same way again.
Like every profession, espionage has its own jargon. Knowing the difference between a casserole (a French informer) and a cobbler (a Soviet forger) can add believability to your writing. Several books can help expand your vocabulary: The Dictionary of Espionage by Henry S.A. Becket (ISBN: 0-440-11955-3); Top Secret: A Clandestine Operator's Glossary of Terms by Bob Burton (ISBN: 0-425 -10047-2), and Spyclopedia by Richard Deacon (ISBN: 0-688-08631 -4). John Le Carr's novels are filled with spook-speak and books on espionage technology such as Spy-Tech by Graham Yost (ISBN: 0-8160-1677-1) or The Whole Spy Catalogue by Richard L. Knudson (ISBN: 0-312-87069-8) can help you sort through the various kinds of bugs and incendiary devices.
Every good U.N.C.L.E. writer should also have the following near at hand:
* A good bartender's guide for mixing drinks.
* A book on worldwide weather, with average temperatures and precipitation amounts.
* Some device (either on paper or electronic) that will help you compute international time (If it's six p.m. in New York, what time is it in Hong Kong?)
* Books on karate or self- defense.
* The Joy of Sex (Always be prepared!)
Back to INTRODUCTION TO FAN FICTION Index Page.