Question: What if you know nothing about the politics of South America but you want to use a nefarious government plot involving some South American country.
Seriously, one of my favorite parts in prepping for a new book is the research. I pick the subject and then start reading. In this case, I’m looking at risk assessments both political and financial. Once I pick a country or an idea, then I take the broad swipe for that locale. Sure I start with Wikipedia. I need it dumbed down just as far as you can—it’s a starting point for the lost and confused. Once I have an idea of where I want to go, then I branch out.
One of my favorite resources is the BBC news links. They often provide information is small chunks with links to the common questions. So if you’re looking at Columbia and you want to know who ELN and FARC are, you’ll usually see that in question form and can follow it to more information.
The major problem with doing this is that you can blow through a bunch of hours and get way off track. But you have to read a lot so you can condense it into a coherent paragraph. Readers want to have a clue, but they don’t want to read a damn Wikipedia entry with links. All they want to know is how and why this is relevant to your story. Unless your readers are into Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum, they don’t want to get bogged down in geo-politics. They want:
“Fred was being hunted by the Green Spider Organization. They were a group of murdering slugs from outer-Slobovia and Fred had pissed in their Wheaties when he killed their mascot during a raid.”
Only you, the author, cares when and how the Green Spiders came to be and the implications of them invading Modesto, California, to hunt down Fred.
Anyway, I was going somewhere with all this… something about liking research…
Oh, yeah… I got it. So, I spent the last six hours reading about politics and war in Columbia and may have come up with something plausible for the story. And if I didn’t, I’ll just pick another country… maybe Argentina. It’s all about the Malbec.