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: Being Given Bad News
Category: Power Struggles, Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Relationship Friction, Duty and Responsibilities, Moral Dilemmas and Temptation, Losing an Advantage, Loss of Control, Ego, No-Win Situations, Miscellaneous Challenges
Being told a loved one was in an accident
That one has cancer or another disease
A promotion went to someone else
One’s bid on a contract was too high
An anticipated trip has been cancelled
That important paperwork was submitted too late
The sale of one’s home has fallen through
Funding could not be secured
One’s company is laying everyone off
That a pitch (for a new design, project, book, etc.) was rejected
A medicine or treatment isn’t working
A child wasn’t accepted into a university
Minor Complications: rearranging one’s schedule, dropping what one’s doing and re-prioritizing, cancelling plans, losing time to sadness, regret, disappointment or worry, losing out on an opportunity, poor decision-making due to stress and anxiety
Potentially Disastrous Results: a money shortage that causes one to default on a mortgage or loan, being unable to cope without the thing that is now missing ( a loved one, steady employment, a place to live), giving up on a direction in life because this news was such a setback or disappointment, jumping into the wrong opportunity out of fear or a need for security without considering possible repercussions and fallout of that choice
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Internal struggles with guilt, regret, and feelings of failure, bouts of depression or anxiety, worrying about protecting others (dependents, a spouse, the people one leads, etc.), trying to decide if keeping the truth quiet is better than sharing the news and causing others pain, fear of the future and what it may bring, becoming obsessed with regaining control through any means necessary after this upset
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members, one’s spouse, extended family, co-workers, neighbors (this will depend on the type of bad news).
Resulting Emotions: agitation, anguish, anxiety, appalled, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, dread, empathy, fear, grief, guilt, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, overwhelmed, regret, remorse, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-pity, shame, shock, skepticism, unappreciated, uncertainty, unease, worry, worthlessness
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, controlling, cowardly, defensive, disloyal, disrespectful, fussy, greedy, haughty, hostile, impulsive, insecure, irrational, judgmental, macho, melodramatic, morbid, needy, nervous, obsessive, oversensitive, paranoid, pessimistic, possessive, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, self-indulgent, selfish, spoiled, tactless, ungrateful, vain, vindictive, violent, withdrawn
Positive Outcomes: Gaining perspective about what’s really important in life, feeling heartened than the outcome wasn’t worse, realizing one needs an emergency plan and then creating one, gaining insight into how one is exposed and making changes to be less vulnerable (setting money aside in an emergency account, buying stronger health insurance, making a move into a field of work that is more secure, etc.)
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.