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: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Loss of Control
Oversleeping (due to an alarm not going off, a hangover, etc.)
A diaper explosion as the character is getting ready to leave
The dog escaping and having to be chased down
Facilities issues, such as a pipe breaking or the fire alarm going off
A transportation breakdown (the car won’t start, one’s bike being stolen, etc.)
Forgetting something vital (a wallet, passport, phone, etc.) and having to go back for it
Getting stuck in traffic, behind a school bus, or at a drawbridge
Taking a wrong turn
Getting a ticket
Getting into a car accident
Having to take an important call (from the kids’ school, the boss, a doctor, etc.)
Having to wait on someone else (a carpool driver, late school bus, babysitter, etc.)
Poor planning (due to being overwhelmed by other things, personality, etc.)
Minor Complications: Friction with others who are inconvenienced, one’s credibility being damaged, forgetting something important because one is in a hurry, being short-tempered with others due to the stress, minor health implications (increased hypertension, aggravating an ulcer, etc.), missing a meal and becoming cranky
Potentially Disastrous Results: Being late to an interview and not getting the job, missing a flight to an important event, ruining a last chance at romance, getting into an accident due to rushing, giving in to road rage, being triggered into a panic attack or mental meltdown
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Berating oneself unnecessarily, struggling with panic or anxiety, denying one’s responsibility and blaming others, becoming defensive, defeatist thoughts (if the impact of one’s tardiness is dire), being tempted to lie about the cause of the lateness
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Anyone waiting on the character: co-workers, the boss, clients, a spouse or partner, children, other relatives, a babysitter or nanny, friends
Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, annoyance, conflicted, defeat, defensiveness, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, dread, embarrassment, flustered, guilt, impatience, irritation, nervousness, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, regret, unease, worry
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, controlling, defensive, disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, fussy, impatient, impulsive, indecisive, inflexible, irresponsible, martyr, melodramatic, nervous, obsessive, perfectionist, scatterbrained, selfish, stubborn, verbose, worrywart
Positive Outcomes: A chance encounter that wouldn’t have happened had the character been on time, learning one’s lesson and planning better in the future, taking responsibility for one’s mistake and being forgiven, recognizing that one is overcommitted and taking steps to keep it from happening again, missing one’s final destination and realizing it was for the best
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.