Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Family Secrets Being Revealed

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: Family Secrets Being Revealed

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, ego, miscellaneous challenges

A parent’s extra-marital affair is uncovered
Discovering the existence of half siblings (say at the reading of a will or when someone shows up at the door claiming to be related)
Finding out a crime was covered up (someone was paid off, a family member was “sent away to school” to avoid consequences, etc.)
A family member is outed for drug abuse, alcoholism, or a gambling habit
Discovering a family member has a fetish or unconventional sexual preferences
A hidden pregnancy
Discovering one’s ancestors were war criminals, racists, or supported such things
Discovering ties to the occult
Finding out one is adopted (or a sibling is)
A discovery that the family’s wealth, property, or power was obtained illegally or through immoral means
The truth coming out about a family business (that it’s almost bankrupt, that it was won in a poker game, that it was built on deceit or through the hard work of others, etc.)
The discovery of a forced marriage
Uncovering the source of a feud
Family abuse coming out into the open (physical, emotional, or sexual)
Finding out that mental illness or another disease runs in the family
Finding out an ability runs in the family (psychic sensitivities, a gift that has always been suppressed or hidden for safety, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Strained relationships
Awkwardness now that another’s secret is out in the open
Family members taking sides
Family members pressuring others to let it go to keep the status quo
Needing someone to talk to but having no one due to broken trust
Unwanted publicity if word gets out
Guilt trips to stay quiet
The burden of knowledge erasing their innocence and changing how they view family

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Investigations, litigation, or other actions being taken against the family or one of its members
Having to course correct (pull the family out of debt, cover something up, make reparations for a family misdeed, pay blackmail)
Having one’s reputation destroyed due to a family member’s transgression
Losing one’s power, a position, or an opportunity because of “guilt by association”
Being ostracized or maligned because they refuse to look the other way or help keep the family’s secret

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling with disillusionment; feeling like one’s life has been a lie
Love, anger, and disappointment facing off when a role model’s unsavory secret is revealed
Relief at having answers yet feeling anger at being kept in the dark
Feeling adrift from one’s family after trust was broken
Feeling betrayed yet still loving the one who caused the emotional harm
Being torn between keeping quiet and speaking out
Wanting to run away and knowing that doing so will make things worse

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members, people who were victimized by someone in the family, the person(s) responsible for the transgression should word leak out, anyone whose reputation could be damaged due to their association with the one at the heart of the matter

Resulting Emotions: anger, appalled, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, confusion, connectedness, contempt, denial, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, disgust, disillusionment, embarrassment, empathy, grief, guilt, hatred, horror, humiliation, hurt, loneliness, nostalgia, panic, paranoia, rage, regret, relief, remorse, resentment, schadenfreude, scorn, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, uncertainty, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, confrontational, cowardly, extravagant, forgetful, gossipy, gullible, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, jealous, judgmental, martyr, perfectionist, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, tactless, vindictive, violent

Positive Outcomes: 
If the secret reveals a truth the character has always suspected, there can be relief in knowing
The discovery that a condition or struggle they have is shared by another may lead to feeling validated
Once a past wound comes out in full, there is the opportunity for everyone involved to begin to heal
If information has been kept from a character, having access to it means they can make informed choices moving forward, regaining control
Once a person knows about a past wrong they can step up and work to make things right again
Once a secret is out, it steals the power of those trying to use it to control the behavior of others

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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[…] Andrea Ackerman has a great article on conflict via Family Secrets Being Revealed at Writers Helping […]

Emma Gaulton
Emma Gaulton
11 months ago

I agree with Monica, please bring out the Conflict thesaurus. But when is the occupation one coming out I want that one to.


11 months ago

Make this (the conflict thesaurus) your next book… pretty please?