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 Unprepared
Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego
Going into an important work meeting, interview, presentation or speech, personal conversation, court case, etc. without proper preparation.
An emergency situation that steals the character’s preparation time
Being assigned the responsibility last minute and having to “wing it”
Poor time management
Taking on too much, so nothing gets done adequately
Procrastination due to an underlying fear or worry
Subconscious self-sabotage (because the character doesn’t really want the promotion, etc.)
Wanting to sabotage someone else who is involved
Being morally opposed to the project
A travel or weather delay that keeps the character from important last-minute preparations
A rival sabotaging the character’s presentation at the last minute (ruining a prototype, stealing their laptop, destroying documents, etc.)
Going into the presentation drunk, hungover, very ill, or otherwise impaired
Being embarrassed in front of peers or influential people
Letting other people down
Hurting the reputation of co-workers, the character’s firm, etc.
Not getting paid for the gig because the character failed to hold up their end of the bargain
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Not getting the desired job, promotion, account, etc.
Being removed from the project and losing out on future opportunities
Failing to bring about change (if the character was speaking at a rally, providing a witness testimony, pleading a case in front of a committee, etc.)
Experiencing health problems from the stress or from being overworked (hypertension, ulcers, insomnia, etc.)
Not being able to salvage a relationship (if the character was unprepared for a conversation meant to mend a rift)
Blaming the circumstances or other people instead of taking responsibility; not learning from the mistake
Shying away from similar projects in the future
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling guilty because other parties were impacted by the character’s poor planning
Struggling with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity
Toying with feelings of self-loathing
Being afraid to work as part of a team and let people down again
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the character’s boss, other people working on the project, people benefiting from the project or presentation (conference attendees, the charity organization the character was representing, etc.)
Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anxiety, apprehension, confusion, defensiveness, doubt, dread, embarrassment, fear, flustered, humiliation, inadequate, insecurity, nervousness, overwhelmed, powerlessness, reluctance, remorse, resignation, shame, uncertainty, unease, vulnerability, worry
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, apathetic, cocky, defensive, disorganized, flaky, hypocritical, irresponsible, lazy, nervous, perfectionist, scatterbrained, timid, uncooperative, worrywart
Learning to plan ahead, schedule more carefully, communicate more clearly, or whatever needs to be done so the situation isn’t repeated
Recognizing that they may not be suited for that career field or particular goal
Taking ownership of their mistakes
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.