The business section of today's paper contained an article that made me think, "Hey, it could be worse," despite having one of those weeks. In brief, a company lost $6 BILLION dollars because of a series of trades by one man who thought that the price of natural gas would rise.
It went down, and so did the value of the company assets, by more than half.
The article names the trader, and notes the obvious -- that the company relied on his expertise. It doesn't say what happened to him in terms of a future in that company.
As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that if I wrote contemporary romances, this would be the sort of thing that becomes a story "seed" for me. You've got the trader, and his big mistake, and a few hints about the situation before the bad trades, primarily that the trader was apparently considered smart and savvy.
So let's start with the trader. Let's say he really was smart and savvy. I can see such a person having a healthy ego. If he were to be the hero who gets redeemed, he could even be arrogant before the fall. If he's the villain, his savvy is all smoke and mirrors, perhaps based on past crimes, or else a "relationship" with somebody in the company -- blackmailed somebody to get the job, say.
In terms of the bad trades, losing the company so much money is bad, but I think if you really want to make your readers care, there has to be a "human element" in there -- something about people. For instance, maybe that loss means the company goes bankrupt. Hundreds of people are thown out of work. Maybe people die because they can't afford medical care.
If the trader's the hero, this loss, and especially the human cost, fills him with guilt and remorse, and no matter what kind of past he's had. That's how you know he's a hero -- he cares. If we're talking the villain, he wouldn't care about other peoples' lives; he just wouldn't want to get caught. Maybe he'd try to throw the blame onto somebody else.
I've just realized I've been referring to these main characters as "he," as if a woman couldn't be a trader. Of course she could. I just generally start with a hero, so I'd likely first "cast" the trader as a man because the trader is the most obvious character to me. However, later I might change it to the heroine if playing "what if" yields some ideas that work better that way.
One thing I'd certainly figure out before I got very far in the "what could happen" would be the "why." Why did the trader feel so confident s/he knew which way the price of gas would go? Why did sh/he have such a good reputation, and was it deserved? What's that character's hidden insecurity? Since I'd be writing a romance, why isn't sh/e married? What kind of relationships have they had in the past?
For me, this is one of the most fun, exciting parts of the process, even if it's for a story I have no intention of writing.