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.
Below is a sample version of this entry that shows how conflict can deepen the story, make a character’s goals harder to achieve, and force them to change or make hard choices to overcome difficulties.
To see the full entry, visit One Stop for Writers’ Conflict Thesaurus (Free Trial available) or buy the book.
Conflict: Being Unable to Save Everyone
Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Duty and Responsibilities, Loss of Control, No-Win Situations
Trying to rescue family members from a burning building
Arriving on the scene of an accident where multiple people have critical injuries and being unable to get to them all
Rescuing people who are drowning after a boat capsizes…
Remaining objective when faced with having to choose who to save when there are people the character knows
Having to choose between people the character cares about equally
Becoming paralyzed by the enormity of the situation and inactivity causing further challenges or risk…
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Making a decision too late (and therefor being unable to save someone, or possibly anyone)
Being injured in the process or falling victim to the same condition (being captured while trying to liberate others, inhaling toxic fumes while helping others escape, etc.)
Being held criminally responsible for the situation when the character did their best (a doctor being sued by the family of someone who was not attended to during a crisis, for example)…
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Knowing they acted as fast as they could but feeling guilt over being unable to save anyone
Beating themselves up in the aftermath for split second choices made in the moment of crisis, yet knowing they could not have done more
Knowing they made the right choices over who to save but being unable to voice this to others for fear of repercussions…
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family and friends, the people involved in the situation (especially the victims), bystanders who have to live with the trauma of what they witnessed
Resulting Emotions: anguish, conflicted, connectedness, defeat, defensiveness, defiant, depressed…
A greater appreciation for life and what’s truly important
A close call and the brush with tragedy causing the character to reevaluate their own relationships
Choosing to no longer hold onto grudges because life is too short…
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.
Use Conflict To Transform Your Story
Readers have a lot of choices when it comes to selecting books, so make it easy for them to choose yours. Conflict will help you deliver a fresh story premise every time, drawing readers in through meaningful challenges that reveal a character’s innermost needs, fears, weaknesses, and strengths.
The Conflict Thesaurus is part of the largest, fiction-specific Description Database available. Access it here.
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“Many of the conflicts listed were ones I had never even thought of including in a story…” ~ Annie Lima
“Angela and Becca have done it again—and left no conflict stone unturned…” ~Jarm Boccio
“Ackerman-Puglisi’s thesaurus is so much more than just a “thesaurus”. It’s a tutor, a guide, and a writing mentor all crammed into one…” ~ Sacha Black
This book is amazing; another priceless resource…” ~ Brandi MacCurdy