Introducing the Conflict Thesaurus

Every story needs CONFLICT.

What elevates a story from good to great? CONFLICT.

A car breakdown in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. A jealous ex who is interfering with the hero’s new relationship. A loss of power when the heroine needs it most. Big or small, conflict creates problems for our characters, tests their motivation, and forces them to prove just how much they want to achieve their goals.

Conflict is the writer’s sacred tool, a kaleidoscope of temptation, pain, and strife that makes the character’s journey more challenging. It comes into play at turning points, pinch points, and whenever we feel like cranking up the heat because we’re evil.

Naturally, Becca and I wanted to explore the many faces of conflict, specifically by zeroing in on psychological categories that can be applied to any genre:

Power Struggles
Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks
Failures and Mistakes
Relationship Friction
Duty and Responsibilities
Moral Dilemmas and Temptations
Losing an Advantage
A Loss of Control
Ego Hits
Unwelcome Challenges
No-Win Scenarios

Here’s the breakdown of what each entry will include:

Minor Complications will look at how an event or scenario will mess up your character’s day, leading to missed opportunities, complications, and painful consequences.

But conflict is all about making things worse, so we’ll also explore how heightened emotional reactions, bad timing, and other factors may lead to Potentially Disastrous Results. Oh, the possibilities for tightening the noose on our characters!

In order to get more mileage from conflict we might want fallout to cascade to others, so we will identify the People who Could Be Negatively Affected in each situation. Including unforeseen consequences for others will make the protagonist even more determined to undo this new problem, especially if their own actions are to partially to blame.

When our characters are faced with adversity, showing their emotions in the moment is critical to ensuring readers are invested in the outcome. Our list of Resulting Emotions will help as you brainstorm actions and responses that are believable and drive their choices.

Speaking of behavior, how a character deals with a challenge depends on their personality. Traits can harm or help, but because we never want characters to solve problems too easily, a list of possible Flaws that Could Make the Situation Worse is something we’ll include in each entry. This way, when your character’s less desirable qualities get him into bigger trouble, he will start to see how he is part of the problem. This puzzle piece will help him realize how he must change if he wishes to achieve his story goal (character arc growth!).

The character’s mindset, beliefs, and values also are a big factor when dealing with obstacles. Before a character responds it’s not uncommon for an internal tug of war to take place: what they feel and what they think are at odds. Not only do they have to weigh different needs and desires, they are often forced to examine the values and morals they live by. Will they stay true to what they believe in or sacrifice their identity for something else? These Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict) make decision-making even more difficult for the character and reading much more intense for our audience.

Finally, we will look at the upside of conflict. Sure, the character would probably prefer to not be challenged on the path to their goal but obstacles offer the potential for growth. So we’ll look at Positive Outcomes like healthier habits and behaviors, how a character might become more open-minded and socially aware, and how a better perspective may change the way they view the world and themselves.

We hope this thesaurus will mean you get a bigger bang from your conflict buck, especially when weaving external conflict with internal reflection. As much as possible we want to force that look within and cause a struggle inside of the character. This way, the actions that result are always an extension of who they are.

Watch for the first entry this week and in the meantime, check out our many other descriptive thesauruses here on this Thesaurus Collection page.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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54 Responses to Introducing the Conflict Thesaurus

  1. Beverly King says:

    I’m so excited about this. Work fast! Editors always tell me I don’t have enough conflict. Maybe now . . .

  2. Lita Brooker says:

    What everyone else said, plus: “Goody, goody, yummy, yummy, nom, nom, nom!” So excited. Just in case I hadn’t made that clear. 😀

  3. Robert Boeck says:

    I already have five of your books so I’m looking forward to number six: conflict. You folks do great work.

  4. Simone Leigh says:

    Sounds great. I’m looking forward to this 🙂

  5. Karla Diaz says:

    Wow! You did it again. You came up with another amazing tool. When you teased us about something new in the pipeline I thought, “What else could there be?” Congratulations on your hard work and for always striving for more. Never stop. Thanks!

  6. Jan Sikes says:

    Wow! This is fantastic!! You ladies ROCK!!

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  8. I’m so excited. I love all of your work and I own all of your books. They sit on my desk and not on the bookshelves, as I access them frequently. You guys are so talented and I’m so appreciative of your website and your insight and knowledge. Thank you for sharing your talents.

  9. M. Lee Scott says:

    Thanks so much for this! Conflict is my nemesis! I’m such a marshmallow when it comes to hurting my characters. The only books I keep near me when writing are all your other thesauruses. Looking forward to getting the help I need.

  10. Congrats on coming up with another great way to help writers.

  11. Harmony Kent says:

    This sounds like a great resource. I’m so looking forward to seeing these. Thank you. Reblogged on:

  12. Trine Grillo says:

    I am looking forward to this one! Thank you.
    Some day I hope to own all of them.

  13. Sounds great! I can’t wait to see these! Enjoying the character builder. I recommend to everyone on my blogs!

  14. Glory Wade says:

    Looking forward to the first one. You two ladies are great. Your books are always so helpful. Every author needs them.

  15. I like the sound of this thesaurus. I look forward to the posts. Thanks!

  16. Wow, this looks amazing! What will you ladies think of next?

  17. Leslie Marshman says:

    Yay!! I can’t wait for this.

  18. Barbie says:

    I wish there was a link to a shop where I could buy physical copies of the thesauruses. I’m sure it’s a lot of work for you, but I would buy a copy of each one. I often lock myself out of the internet while writing (for productivity reasons, I’m too easily distracted) and so I can’t use your resources as often as I’d love to.

  19. Glynis Jolly says:

    This is going to be so incredibly helpful! I have been so frustrated with trying to keep the tension in my stories at a decent level. With this thesaurus, the job will be so much easier. Thank you so much!

    • We love coming up with ideas that you guys can use in your stories. 🙂 Because everyone is writing something different, the way the idea can be used and how it will roll out will always be something fresh and new. 🙂

  20. Catherine Vigna says:

    All of these writers’ books are on my bucket list! What you do for writers is absolutely amazing, and so much appreciated!

  21. Jenni says:

    Great idea! I can’t wait to read the entries.

  22. Looking forward to this!!!

  23. Becca,
    Th e conflict thesaurus sounds like a very valuable tool–something I could use right now! My protagonist is a victim of domestic violence. Her husband is a New York State Trooper. Seven years ago after her son was born, she changed her identity and fled to CA. She started a new life, has friends and a man she loves. She is now in a situation where there’s a good chance her husband will be given information about her identity and whereabouts. She is conflicted about staying put–she’s put down roots in the community, so has her young son and she’s in love. If she stays, she puts herself and her son in danger–her husband always told her he’d kill her if she left (til death do us part) if she runs she has to start all over, change identities again but she’d be safe–although she’ll never be able to feel completely safe. Her fears are realistic and since she has a young son–how does she resolve this? Does she stay and face the real dangers of a policeman batterer once and for all, or does she run and put distance between herself and him again? I’d love your thoughts and analysis.

    • Sounds like you have a great conflict-driven scenario here. Mary Jo. You have lots of good reasons why she would stay put, so I think you’ve made it a compelling case. You could always take the decision out of her hands–her son is hospitalized, or her new love has been poisoned (hmmm, was it the ex?)…lots of possibilities. Have fun with it!

  24. Can’t wait to read the entries. I appreciate what you two do.

  25. This sounds excellent! Looking forward to reading it.

  26. Allison Collins says:

    Exactly what I’ve needed for years!!! I’m so excited about this! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Angela and Becca!

  27. Hannah says:

    This is awesome! A thesaurus I’ve sorely been needing, but didn’t even know it. 🙂
    Will this thesaurus be in a book format or a blog series or apart of the One Stop for Writers?

    • Hi, Hannah! We don’t know yet what formats it will eventually end up in. Our process is to test drive it here at Writers Helping Writers to see what kind of response we get and how helpful the thesaurus is. We typically give it a good, long run at the blog (the Occupation Thesaurus ran for a full year) before retiring it and making a publication decision. Either way, it most likely will end up in an expanded form at One Stop for Writers once we’re done with it here. I hope you like it! The first entry will be up on Saturday.

  28. Staci Troilo says:

    This sounds amazing! Looking forward to these.

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