Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.
It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.
Conflict: A Deadline Being Moved Up
Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks
Examples: Needing to have important paperwork completed, securing funds to pay off a debt, needing to have materials prepped for a earlier meeting than expected, being forced to complete plans for a rally or other event sooner, discovering the timeline to fulfill a promise has been bumped up, needing to secure resources sooner (for a battle, to prepare for imminent danger, etc.), finding out a window of opportunity is closing faster than anticipated (to escape, to overcome an obstacle, to impress the right people, to prove one’s innocence, to save someone’s life etc.)
Minor Complications: Disrupting one’s schedule and personal plans, inconveniencing other people if their support is needed to complete a task, losing sleep, having to sacrifice quality for efficiency, disappointing loved ones by placing their needs last, having to ask people for help that one may not want to (because it makes one look weak, they may expect something in return, or the other person is a rival), scrambling to make changes to fit the new timeline (cutting back on scope of the project, changing the venue, having to pay more to expedite things or obtain what one needs, etc.)
Potentially Disastrous Results: Rushing that leads to safety issues (and someone is injured), having to make a deal that carries a high personal cost (being forced to sacrifice a cherished goal, having to return a very expensive favor, being placed in harm’s way, etc.), being blamed for a poor turnout or sloppy end result, failing because the timeline cannot be met, having one’s reputation destroyed because one delivered subpar work, completely blowing a budget and being held accountable, treating someone poorly while stressed and damaging a relationship beyond repair, breaking the law to meet the deadline and getting caught
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Anxiety over how to meet the deadline, suffering a crisis of faith in one’s abilities, feeling guilt for putting others in a bad position through no fault of one’s own, feeling guilt at letting some people down to focus on the task at hand, anger (at the cause) that wars with feelings of duty and responsibility, struggling with the temptation to cut corners, break the law, lie, or cross an ethical line to get what one needs
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: One’s boss, co-workers and employees, family members, a political party or cause one is championing, people in one’s community, or anyone who will be impacted by the choices one makes in order to complete the objective in time, or if one fails, those who will be hurt by that failure
Resulting Emotions: Anger, Anxiety, Apprehension, Bitterness, Conflicted, Contempt, Defeat, Despair, Desperation, Determination, Doubt, Dread, Emasculated, Embarrassment, Flustered, Frustration, Guilt, Inadequate, Intimidated, Overwhelmed, Panic, Powerlessness, Resentment, Resignation, Self-pity, Shock, Skepticism, Stunned, Unappreciated, Worry
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, Cocky, Compulsive, Confrontational, Controlling, Disorganized, Extravagant, Fanatical, Flaky, Forgetful, Fussy, Gullible, Hypocritical, Impatient, Impulsive, Inattentive, Indecisive, Inflexible, Insecure, Irresponsible, Martyr, Melodramatic, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Reckless, Resentful, Scatterbrained, Stingy, Tactless, Temperamental, Uncooperative, Weak-willed, Whiny, Worrywart
Positive Outcomes: Becoming better at time management, being able to hone one’s organizational and planning skills, becoming more adaptable when things go sideways, a chance to lead and gain valuable experience, becoming better at working with others, discovering who one’s friends truly are by seeing who sticks around to help and who does not, learning one is far more capable than believed by taking on a difficult challenge
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.