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: An Estranged Relative Showing Up
Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, loss of control, ego
An estranged parent appearing at the door unannounced
Falling out with a cousin and years later they call to ask for help
An estranged parent showing up at the hospital to meet their grandchild
A sibling that has been out of the character’s life for years in a bind asking for money
A relative banned from the character’s wedding showing up anyway
Feuding relatives showing up at a loved one’s funeral, wake, or will-reading
A child with an out-of-control addiction showing up because they’re in trouble
Anger causing rash behavior and words that can’t be taken back
Embarrassment, especially if the person shows up drunk, hungover, or behaves inappropriately in front of others
Having to navigate uncomfortable questions if the character has lied about the person in some way (that they are dead, or in a care facility, etc.)
Losing the esteem of others (the person behaving badly around colleagues, for example)
Exposing loved ones to a toxic person
The estranged relative catering to the character’s partner or child in hopes it will help them get what they want
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being suckered into believing they have changed only to find they have not
A child building a relationship with their grandparent only to be later abandoned
The character’s hard-won esteem crashing due to gas-lighting
The character falling back into dysfunctional habits they worked hard to shake
Anger escalating to violence, and the police are called
Family drama ruining an important event (a wedding reception, graduation, etc.)
Discovering money or items are missing after this person’s arrival
The person’s arrival touching off a feud where relatives all takes sides
The estranged member causing friction in their marriage
People discovering the character’s past as they know it is a lie
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Wanting approval still and so feeling weak for needing it
Struggling to not let one’s own “ugly side” take over due to unresolved anger
Wanting to resolve things but knowing it is impossible
Wanting to tell loved ones the truth behind the rift but being unable to return to the source of hurt
Anxiety over traits the character has in common with the estranged individual
Questioning their memory (especially if gas-lighting was a factor)
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the character themselves, loved ones (especially vulnerable ones like children or elderly relatives who could be taken advantage of)
Resulting Emotions: anger, anxiety, appalled, betrayed, bitterness, certainty, conflicted, confusion, contempt, defensiveness, defiant, disgust, disillusionment, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, flustered, frustration, grief, guilt, hatred, homesick, hopefulness, humiliation, hurt, insecurity, longing, neglected, rage, regret, reluctance, remorse, resentment, resignation, sadness, schadenfreude, scorn, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, skepticism, suspicion, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability, worthlessness
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, callous, confrontational, forgetful, hypocritical, indecisive, martyr, needy, perfectionist, subservient, timid, violent, volatile, weak-willed
If both parties regret the past, perhaps a more functional future can be achieved through forgiveness and accountability
Sometimes a person needs closure. Seeing the person again and knowing they haven’t changed may allow the character to move on.
If the character needed information (say on a birth parent to be able to fill out accurate health histories for their child), it is possible they can finally get it even if that is the only positive of the person returning.
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this conflict thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is available at our main site, One Stop for Writers.
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