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.
Category: Relationship Friction, Loss of Control, Ego
Examples: Learning that an ex is seeing someone else can be a painful experience, especially if the character is still emotionally attached. The amount of conflict this situation arouses will depend on many factors, but the most impactful are who the ex is with and where the character sees them. For varying degrees of tension in this scenario, consider the following possibilities:
Seeing the ex with…
The character’s best friend
A family member
The character’s therapist, pastor, or other trusted mentor
Someone the ex always claimed they didn’t like
Someone the character can’t easily avoid, such as a co-worker or their child’s teacher
Seeing the ex and their new significant other…
At a funeral
At a family reunion
In a place that holds significance for the character and their ex (the site of their first date, the church where they were married, etc.)
In a confined area where avoidance is difficult, such as a shared taxi, a train car, or an elevator
At an event where the character needs to be at their best, such as a performance or important business meeting
Minor Complications: The character saying something they’ll regret later, awkwardness or unease that causes the character to do something embarrassing (spilling a drink, putting on an obvious act as if everything is fine, etc.), skipping school or calling in sick and getting in trouble for it, avoiding the ex by cancelling plans with a friend and creating tension in that relationship, temporary uncertainty about one’s current romantic partner, becoming needy with one’s romantic partner
Potentially Disastrous Results: Getting into a physical altercation with the new person, the mental strain causing collateral damage for the character in the aftermath (blowing a work presentation, not doing well at a job interview, etc.), obsessing about it and ruining the current romantic relationship, seeking revenge against the ex, coping in an unhealthy way (getting drunk and doing something stupid, spending large amounts of money, etc.), pushing one’s romantic relationship to the next level before either party is ready to go there, seeking to get the ex back (even if the ex was bad for the character, the relationship was toxic, etc.)
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Comparing oneself to the new person and finding oneself lacking, romanticizing the old relationship (only recalling the good memories, remembering things more positively than they actually were, etc.), needing to process the new information but having to hide one’s emotions, difficulty finding closure (if the new person is someone the character will see often), becoming dissatisfied with one’s singleness, struggling with suicidal thoughts, slipping deeper into an existing mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.), revived feelings of remorse or guilt (if the character was to blame for the break-up)
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character’s current romantic partner, the ex, the ex’s new flame, friends and family members
Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, conflicted, contempt, depressed, desire, devastation, disbelief, flustered, hurt, inadequate, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, loneliness, longing, nostalgia, obsessed, powerlessness, resentment, sadness, self-pity, shock, stunned, vengeful, vulnerability
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, catty, confrontational, controlling, impulsive, insecure, jealous, macho, melodramatic, needy, obsessive, oversensitive, paranoid, possessive, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, self-indulgent, vindictive, weak-willed
Positive Outcomes: Eventually gaining closure from seeing that the ex has moved on, comparing one’s current partner with the ex and seeing how much better one’s situation is now, seeing one’s faults realistically (if one was to blame for the break-up, or the new person is a truly good person) and being motivated to change them, being freed emotionally to pursue a new relationship
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.