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: Experiencing a Crisis of Self-Doubt
Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges
When a new challenge is introduced after a long battle
As the character is getting ready to propose
When the character is about to take a leap of faith to try something new (singing tryouts, apply for a new job, etc.)
When the character needs to take charge
Right as the character needs to do something dangerous (leap out of a plane, jump off a bridge, run into a burning building)
While following through with a murder, a heist, a kidnapping, etc.
When delivering an important speech
While trying to lie their way out of a situation
When an obstacle presents itself
When others are relying on the character to follow through
When the character needs to take on a large responsibility
When it’s important to speak up
When there’s an opportunity to impress someone
When someone needs to be protected
Delaying and missing an opportunity
A competitor getting the edge
Missing the perfect moment
Losing a window of much-needed privacy
Creating the seed of doubt in others (about the character’s abilities, leadership, commitment, etc.)
Having to reschedule
Losing out on a chance to lead or share an idea
Never getting a chance to say something to someone important
Potentially Disastrous Results:
A criminal escaping
Losing the chance to take out a difficult target
Disappointing a loved one
Being caught in a lie
Failing to save someone’s life
Causing an accident where someone is hurt
Losing to a competitor
Missing the chance to say goodbye
Giving up on the cusp of greatness
Failing to bring about a meaningful change
Becoming a follower, not a leader
Never living up to one’s potential due to a fear of failure
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling paralyzed by past failures yet wanting to believe something better is possible
Wanting to give up because it’s hard but knowing others are counting on them
Being tempted to give in because it’s easier
Wrestling with what’s right and wrong
A misbelief that they don’t deserve to be happy so maybe giving up will lead to less pain
Worrying that an inner weakness will always keep them from greatness
Suddenly becoming aware of another point of view which causes them to question what they believe to be true
Being torn between trying and failing or not trying at all
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Those who are relying on the protagonist, people the protagonist is responsible for or to, people who could be hurt if the character fails
Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, conflicted, defeat, despair, desperation, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, dread, fear, frustration, inadequate, longing, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, self-loathing
Following through and discovering inner strength
Gaining the clarity in the moment to know what they really want and doubling down
Breaking away the chains of fear and doubt by following through
Hesitating long enough to question one’s motivations and avoiding a terrible mistake
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.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.