Spin a Plot from One Story Element

image by Finmiki

Are your story ideas starting to sound alike? Have your stories become the same plot with fill-in-the-blanks for such elements as:

  • character’s career,
  • the opening line,
  • the props, and
  • the title?

What if you could start with one story element that’s clever, quirky, funny, and/or mysterious—something that is so fresh that it’ll lead you into a reader-grabbing plot?

To show you what I mean, I’ll give examples from my experience.

Character’s Career


I majored in math, but never planned to become an actuary. But once in the profession, people drawn to the career fascinated me. People outside the department didn’t understand actuaries, so the jokes and jibes about actuaries’ peculiarities spread. Over the years, I collected jokes and amusing true-life stories about actuaries from my own observations.

I wanted to write a novel that centered on an actuary. So, I pulled together the truths, quirks, social phenomena, and funny situations I’d learned concerning actuaries. I wrote the love story between a male actuary and a woman his extreme opposite—a marketing rep. What I knew about actuaries wrote the story for me—the plot and the conflicts. I didn’t include all the jokes and idiosyncrasies I’d collected, but they helped me know how my private, introverted, analytical actuary would act and react in the kinds of circumstances the guy would fall into.

This novel was my first published novel, Calculated Risk.

Opening Line


image by OpenClipart-Vectors

While daydreaming, an opening line flashed. With the many interruptions to her already loaded schedule, when would she find the time to kill Rita? I entered it in an opening-line contest, and it won. I subsequently wrote, “Plotting Murder,” and Christian Fiction Online Magazine published the short story. Because I focused the plot and characters on that line, it forced me to construct something unique and mysterious to keep my audience guessing until the end about why a housewife would have this unique problem.



image by geralt

Researching an idea for a romantic suspense story, I discovered a company that makes lifelike silicon masks that are exact replicas of people. I wrote a story about criminals manufacturing these masks. They sold the service of performing damaging actions while wearing the masks that would ruin or setup lucrative blackmail situations against politicians, CEOs, celebrities, and the like.

Another suspense idea came from authentic actuarial data I’d mined concerning multiple births. I used the phenomenon I’d uncovered in a story about a criminal ring headed by an obstetrician.

Although the rejection letters I received complimented my story ideas, I had not yet learned to write well.


In another daydreaming instance, O. Henry’s title “Gift of the Magi” entered my thoughts. Immediately, magpie inserted itself. I wondered what a story titled, “Gift of the Magpie,” would be about. After brainstorming what the magpie could be other than a bird and a storyline different than O. Henry’s, I wrote a short story. The plot grew and demanded to be a book. My second inspirational romance, Gift of the Magpie, releases mid August.

Write a unique story starting with a clever, quirky, or mysterious story element. Click to tweet.

What story element have you centered an engaging story around?

Story’s Black Moment: Make Sure It’s Black for a Red-Hot Reason

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures

Writers hear much about the need for conflict and disasters in every scene and a black moment near the story’s two-thirds point. We don’t throw these essentials into the mix, but intentionally construct them.

image by geralt
image by geralt

Conflicts and disasters work to enhance the plot or develop characterization. The black moment forces the character to realize what the character truly yearns for, and the event calls for a life change.



Before the Black Moment

Besides a character’s outward and inward goals, the character longs for something missing in her life. Her longing is something she doesn’t realize—or doesn’t grasp how important it is to her. Usually, past experiences have caused the yearning.

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures


  • Amy yearns for the peace of being able to trust, or trust again.
  • Conroy longs to never have to worry about being sent away again.
  • Jenna yens to be good enough.

Since these longings are part of the character’s makeup, the reader will see hints of these yearnings throughout the story. No character or narrator will tell or explain the yearning. The hints will be shown through the character’s thoughts and actions.

During the Black Moment

The black moment is a painful event of some type that causes the character to realize his yearning and that it’s what he’s wanted all along. More than his physical goals.

image by johnhain
image by johnhain


  • Amy’s boyfriend leaves. Sobbing, Amy realizes her mistrust has driven away her soulmate. She asks herself, would she want to marry someone who never trusted her?
  • Conroy is fired from his job for which he worked hard to please his bosses. He realizes bending backward doesn’t guarantee peace and security. His timidity may have even caused his termination.
  • The boat capsizes, and fishing line entangles Jenna’s husband. She realizes looking for help from nearby boats isn’t an option. This time, she has to be good enough or become a widow.

After the Black Moment

The realization moment must drive the character to make a decision to change, or ignore her revelation. And the decision should be more than internal reflection. She must show the change or status quo through her actions.


  • Amy decides that trusting the hero is the only thing that will save their relationship. She goes to his apartment, where he talks with his lovely neighbor. When he sees Amy, he looks nervous. Amy’s smile is genuine, and she calmly enters into their conversation.
  • Conway decides he’s through “playing it safe” out of fear that people will reject him. He asks his girlfriend of six years to marry him.
  • image by Evaul
    image by Evaul
    Jenna decides to do the impossible and try to save her husband. She quickly ties the boat rope to her waist, dives under the water, releases his knife from its sheath, and frees his arms and legs.



A story’s black moment makes heroes realize their yearning and calls for a change. Click to tweet.

What does your story’s black moment reveal and call your character to decide?