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 your story, make a character’s goals more difficult to achieve, and force them to change or make hard choices to overcome what stands in their way.
To see the full entry, visit One Stop for Writers’ Conflict Thesaurus (Free Trial available) or buy the book.
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…
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.)…
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…
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…
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…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, callous, confrontational, forgetful, hypocritical…
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.
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.
New to One Stop for Writers? Swing by and check out our video walkthrough, because it’s time to change the writing game.
The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles
This thesaurus is also in book form, a two-volume set. Each volume contains expert advice on how to use conflict to improve your story, and a plethora of conflict scenarios to provide ideas on how to best challenge your characters.
Each volume is a unique gateway into conflict, but looks at this important element from different angles. Together, they profile 225 conflict scenarios.
Find out more about the GOLD and SILVER editions.
“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
Visit Goodreads to read more reviews about the GOLD and SILVER editions.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Elva Cobb Martin says
This is great, ladies, thank you! I will share it, you bet
Elva Cobb Martin,
President, ACFW-SC Chapter