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: A Romantic Competitor
Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, losing an advantage, ego
Dating someone who isn’t exclusive
A love interest’s old flame showing up and wanting to resume a relationship
An ex trying to win back the love interest
A rival who wants the same love interest
Being ‘just friends’ yet wanting more (when competition shows up)
A rival seeking ways to hurt the character, including stealing their love interest
Having to find ways to one-up the competition
Having to go to a special event solo because they acted too slowly
Being distracted (which interferes with work, school, and other responsibilities)
Having to work twice as hard to be noticed
Being teased or pitied by friends because of the situation
Time lost to worry and anxiety
Jealousy creeping into the relationship, causing arguments
Discomfort at putting themselves out there (if they have not made their feelings known yet to the love interest)
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Jealousy that gets out of hand and causes a breakup
Getting caught spying on the love interest (while they are out with the competition)
Becoming so obsessive it drives the love interest toward the competition
Demanding the love interest make a choice and they choose the competition
Trying to “buy” affection and it turns the love interest off
Pretending to be interested in someone else and it backfiring
Getting into an altercation with a rival and the love interest walks away from both
Giving up and then living with regret
Breaking up and developing a new emotional wound: unrequited love
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Insecurity causing neediness (and self-loathing for that neediness)
Anguish over the partner’s indecision
Feeling “not good enough” but also angry for being made to feel this way
Anger at the rival but also shame as he (or she) is a good person
Wrestling with trust issues regarding one’s love interest
Depression if one is not chosen but also being happy that someone they care about is with the right person
Wanting to share negative information about the rival but knowing the love interest will see it as jealousy
The temptation to cross a moral line to come out ahead
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the love interest, rival, third-party individuals who may also have a stake in the outcome (perhaps someone who has feelings for the character but has not made it known to them yet)
Resulting Emotions: agitation, anger, anguish, anticipation, anxiety, bitterness, conflicted, confusion, defeat, depressed, desire, despair, desperation, determination, disappointment, doubt, emasculated, envy, fear, grief, guilt, hopefulness, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, loneliness, longing, love, obsessed, paranoia, powerlessness, regret, relief, resentment, resignation, schadenfreude, scorn, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, validated, valued, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: catty, childish, confrontational, controlling, dishonest, foolish, impulsive, insecure, melodramatic, needy, nosy, obsessive, paranoid, possessive, prejudiced, pretentious, promiscuous, pushy, rebellious, reckless, suspicious, temperamental, whiny
A character who has been holding back out of a fear to commit could come to the realization that this was unfair to the other person and make changes moving forward
The appearance of a rival may force the character to reflect on whether this relationship is worth fighting for or not
A character struggling to show or articulate feelings may finally find the inner strength to push through the mental blocks holding them back
For a character who has a hard time seeing their own strengths, having to put themselves into the love interest’s viewpoint will help them catalog their better qualities, creating a greater sense of self-worth and confidence.
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
This conflict thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access our entire descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing), visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.