Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Sending a Private Message to the Wrong Person

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: Sending a private message to the wrong person

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, ego

Accidentally “replying all” to a work email
Replying to an email instead of forwarding the response to someone else
Responding to a group text instead of an individual recipient
Sending a text or email to the wrong person
Accidentally posting a private message to a public forum, discussion board, social media page, etc.

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment over having made a stupid and public mistake
Relationship friction (if the message contained insulting or controversial material)
Time wasted having to do damage control
Distance created between the character and the object of discussion when the latter realizes they were meant to be excluded from the conversation
Decreased productivity due to distraction and worry
A competitive co-worker learning of the character’s plans or ideas and capitalizing on them
The character’s capability and trustworthiness being questioned, resulting in fewer opportunities at work
Losing sleep and experiencing health issues over the situation

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being fired for using work email for inappropriate purposes (sexting, propositioning a co-worker, harassing them, etc.)
Getting fired because the contents of the message resulted in lost revenue, lost clients, or public blowback for the company
Being arrested or sued (if the contents suggested illegal activity by the character)
The recipient copying and distributing the message publicly
A personal secret being shared with a stranger or rival rather than a trusted confidant
A relationship ending because of what was said in the message
Being blackmailed by the recipient in exchange for their silence
Developing serious health problems, such as hypertension, an ulcer, or depression

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Shame over what the message revealed (prejudice on the character’s part, a flaw such as cruelty or pettiness, etc.)
Feeling insecure around the involved parties
Worrying over possible long-term effects from what happened
Wanting to hide rather than confront or face those involved
Being tempted to lie about the circumstances to minimize the damage
Guilt over trouble the event has caused for loved ones or co-workers

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The recipient(s), the subject of the message, other loved ones or co-workers (depending on where the mistake took place)

Resulting Emotions: Anxiety, appalled, apprehension, defensiveness, desperation, devastation, disbelief, dread, embarrassment, fear, flustered, guilt, humiliation, insecurity, nervousness, paranoia, regret, self-pity, shame, shock, unease, vulnerability, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Catty, cocky, defensive, melodramatic, paranoid

Positive Outcomes: 
Learning to be more careful in the future about written communication
Seeing a blind spot in their character (a flaw or ideology) and determining to change it
Recognizing that gossip is hurtful and divisive and resolving to stop doing it
A necessary conversation being started that the character otherwise wouldn’t have initiated
The object of the discussion hearing a truth that would never have been purposely shared

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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Jan Sikes
Jan Sikes
11 months ago

That could definitely make for a sticky situation! Great post!