Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Delay that Makes One Late

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.


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. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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[…] Dane discusses the key types of conflict while Becca Puglisi zeros in on the specific conflict of a delay that makes your character late, and Vaughn Roycroft examines what makes a good […]

Ren'e Fedyna
Ren'e Fedyna
1 year ago

Thanks. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I will keep this in mind as I put my characters in tense situations.

Ren'e Fedyna
Ren'e Fedyna
1 year ago

Hi Becca, thanks so much for your list. I agree with you about the importance of conflict but I wonder if there can be too much conflict. Can a reader get weary of unrelieved high tension, as in a scary movie when from time to time something comical brings some short-lived tension release?

1 year ago
Reply to  Ren'e Fedyna

I’ll answer for Becca as she’s just getting her house all set up after a move – absolutely there can be too much conflict. Two things will happen if we see conflict piled upon conflict: first, the writing will become episodic (this happens to the character, then this, then this, then this) to the point where it ceases to be believable. The second thing that happens is that it will exhaust the reader and they will shut the book because it’s all too much.

Conflict is an ebb and flow. We want to challenge our characters, but constant challenge is like a car chase that never ends – after a while, we skip ahead to get to something else. So it requires a lot of understanding of what makes good pacing and judgement as to why the conflict is there. Is it pushing the story forward? Helping to reveal new layers of the character? Forcing them to stretch themselves and adapt and change? Or, is it just there for flash? If the latter, it just doesn’t belong.