Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Facing a Challenge Beyond One’s Skill or Knowledge

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: Facing a Challenge Beyond One’s Skill or Knowledge

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Duty and Responsibilities, Loss of Control, No-Win Situations, Miscellaneous Challenges

Lead people to safety
Deliver a baby in an emergency
Survive a natural disaster
Treat a wound or perform emergency surgery
Survive a home invasion
Navigate the wilderness when lost
Troubleshoot a vehicle breakdown
Provide aid as the first to arrive after a car accident
Escape one’s abductors
Intervene between individuals to stop a violent fight
Talk someone out of committing suicide
Steal a car or break into a building because one must
Save someone’s life
Evade dangerous pursuers (a car or foot chase)

Minor Complications: Having to put other plans or needs on hold, shakiness from an adrenaline rush, discomfort with the task at hand (possibly dealing with blood and exposed bone, having to break the law out of necessity, feeling vulnerable and exposed, etc.), suffering an injury while trying to navigate the situation, making a political misstep or otherwise “stepping on toes” while trying to help

Potentially Disastrous Results: Making a mistake that hurts or kills someone (causing spinal damage while pulling a person from a burning car in an accident, not taking enough care when delivering a baby, or dressing a wound incorrectly and an infection occurs, etc.), failing to see a risk until it’s too late, causing painful fallout to oneself or others

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): A moral tug-of-war over right and wrong in this situation (putting one’s needs about others to survive, abandoning one person to save the group, having to break the law for the right reasons, etc.), combating instinctual fight vs. flight as pressure mounts and one feels incapable in the situation, difficulty reconciling with hindsight and what one could have done, said, or should have seen coming

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family, friends, innocent bystanders, the group of people one is with, anyone whose fate is in one’s hands

Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, apprehension, conflicted, confusion, defensiveness, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, doubt, dread, empathy, fear, flustered, frustration, guilt, humbled, inadequate, insecurity, nervousness, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, regret, relief, reluctance, resignation, self-pity, shock, stunned, terror, uncertainty, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, apathetic, callous, disloyal, disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, gullible, impatient, impulsive, inattentive, indecisive, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, nervous, oversensitive, paranoid, perfectionist, reckless, resentful, scatterbrained, selfish, tactless, temperamental, timid, uncommunicative, uncooperative, weak-willed, whiny, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: Learning that one is more capable than previously believed, feeling good at stepping up or helping out when it was needed most, realizing one can lead others, seeing mistakes as an opportunity to learn and as proof of a willingness to stick one’s neck out when required, having a bigger appreciation for one’s life and the advantages (and people) in it

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Jan Sikes
Jan Sikes
1 year ago

These are absolutely fabulous suggestions! Pinning for future use! Thank you!