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.
Below is a sample version of this entry that shows how conflict can deepen your story, make a character’s goals more difficult to achieve, and force them to change or make hard choices to overcome what stands in their way.
To see the full entry, visit One Stop for Writers’ Conflict Thesaurus (Free Trial available) or buy the book.
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…
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.)…
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…
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…
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…
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…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, catty, confrontational, controlling, impulsive…
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…
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.
Use Conflict To Transform Your Story
Readers have a lot of choices when it comes to selecting books, so make it easy for them to choose yours. Conflict will help you deliver a fresh story premise every time, drawing readers in through meaningful challenges that reveal a character’s innermost needs, fears, weaknesses, and strengths.
The Conflict Thesaurus is part of the largest, fiction-specific Description Database available. Access it here.
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The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles
This thesaurus is also in book form, a two-volume set. Each volume contains expert advice on how to use conflict to improve your story, and a plethora of conflict scenarios to provide ideas on how to best challenge your characters.
Each volume is a unique gateway into conflict, but looks at this important element from different angles. Together, they profile 225 conflict scenarios.
“Many of the conflicts listed were ones I had never even thought of including in a story…” ~ Annie Lima
“Angela and Becca have done it again—and left no conflict stone unturned…” ~Jarm Boccio
“Ackerman-Puglisi’s thesaurus is so much more than just a “thesaurus”. It’s a tutor, a guide, and a writing mentor all crammed into one…” ~ Sacha Black
This book is amazing; another priceless resource…” ~ Brandi MacCurdy
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.