Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Unprepared

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.

Possible Reasons:
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

Minor Complications:
Looking unprofessional
Losing credibility
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.)
Getting fired
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

Positive Outcomes: 
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.


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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7 months ago

This is absolutely my FAVORITE conflict device–to read and to write. Thanks for posting. I can’t wait to share for Writer Wednesday.