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: PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION
Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges
The character’s body being pushed past it’s limits due to exertion
Being depleted due to poor nutrition or starvation
An illness that ravages the character’s strength…
Sustaining an injury due to slow reaction time (a cut, a burn, etc.)
Dropping something of value and damaging it…
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Injuring another person due to inattention, losing a grip on something, or their strength giving out
Suffering a serious fall or injury
Forcing others to endanger themselves to perform a rescue…
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Putting their own welfare above others vs. adhering to responsibility
Insecurity over being perceived as weak or unworthy by those who matter
Self-loathing and shame at their own weakness if this situation is because they didn’t take care of their health, or they are out of shape, etc.)…
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character themselves, people who are reliant on the character (family, teammates, people who are caught in a difficult predicament who must work together to survive it, etc.)
Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, defeat, defiant, despair, desperation, determination, dread…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, cocky, grumpy, haughty, hostile, irrational, melodramatic…
Characters sometimes need to be brought down a peg and realize that everyone struggles. This can allow them to have greater empathy for others, and a better appreciation for those in a similar situation.
A character who refuses help out of a belief they are beyond such a need or because of a past hurt will find themselves challenged on the validity of such a belief, either learning the power in community and teamwork, or giving them an opportunity to move past trust issues by being forced to accept help and thereby seeing not everyone is bad…
If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.
And if you would like more ideas on how to use Physical Exhaustion to add conflict to a scene and how to describe it through your character’s behaviors, actions, and visceral sensations, take a look at our mini-guide, Emotion Amplifiers.
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.
I write crime and exhaustion is a “must have” conflict device for my bad men. There is only so far amphetamines can carry someone and then they hit the wall. Or, you know, so I’ve been told…