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.
Note: For Romantic Competitors, see this entry
Conflict: A Competitor Showing Up
Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, losing an advantage, ego
A superstar co-worker who joins the team
A business that opens nearby with the potential to compete with one’s own
Someone new who begins hanging out with the character’s group of friends
A competitor for resources (a gold panner who sets up a claim close by, a factory that draws large amounts of water from the river, an influx of hunters that make game scarce, etc.)
Being upstaged by someone (say by a spouse’s estranged, deadbeat son or a successful cousin who loves attention) who shows up and steals the family’s time, energy, and focus
A political competitor joining the race (for mayor, the school president position, to head a committee, etc.)
A competitor for a cherished role (the lead in a play, the team captain position, a promotion)
Another candidate who puts their name in for tenure at a university
Another group or organization vying for government funding
Student hopefuls seeking to gain spots at an elite university that the character wishes to attend
A superstar entering the character’s field, thereby threatening their position or status
The character ending up in a bidding war (for a house, property, someone’s business or their goodwill, etc.)
Being ignored or forgotten temporarily while the focus is on the new person
Having to go through new hoops to accommodate the competition
Dealing with jealousy
Being thrown “off one’s game” due to emotional turmoil caused by this threat
Finding that people or resources (that maybe the character sort of took for granted) are unavailable
Having to call in a favor for help or to gain an advantage
Being forced to explain things, go over the rules, show someone around, etc. when the character doesn’t want to
Being caught off guard and having to scramble to catch up (say to match a competitor’s promotion that is stealing away customers or to assemble a team to help the character strategize how to win an election they believed they would get by proxy)
Having to put on an act (friendliness, being accepting or understanding) when the character doesn’t want to
Having to hide anger, frustration or hurt because to express it will cast one in a bad light
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being outmatched by the competition
Discovering the competition is flouting the law or doing a great amount of damage but being unable to prove it
A competitor who plays dirty
Knowing the competition is toxic yet seeing everyone fall under their spell
Losing to the competitor
Losing prestige, clout, or support due to a smear campaign by the competitor
Being passed over (for a position, a raise, a promotion)
Being blackmailed and forced to drop out of the race by the competitor
Being called out or cast out (by family, a social group, an organization) for overcompetitiveness and rash behavior
Crossing a moral line in the heat of the moment and regretting it
Damaging a hard-won reputation for losing control during the competition
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
The desire to play dirty because the competition is
Believing in capitalism yet resenting a newcomer who forces competitiveness
Feeling entitled to win due to loyalty, dedication, and having a history with the company or organization yet knowing the competition is more skilled or better at leading
Anger at facing competition when peers, siblings, or family members in the same situation are not
Discovering something that could ruin the competitor’s chances but knowing that revealing it will change how others see the character
Wanting to get rid of one’s competition but being unable to (because they are a family member, or they make a loved one happy)
Liking someone and wishing they were an ally, not competition
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected:
Family and friends caught in the crossfire, supporters who back the character and lose, loyal friends who cross the line (because the character asked them to) and get caught
Loving one’s family but resenting their support of a competitor
Resulting Emotions: admiration, agitation, anger, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, concern, conflicted, contempt, defensiveness, determination, disappointment, discouraged, frustration, humbled, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, intimidated, jealousy, nervousness, panic, resentment, schadenfreude, self-pity, stunned, uncertainty, vulnerability, worry
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, catty, childish, cocky, confrontational, devious, dishonest, disorganized, flaky, foolish, gossipy, hypocritical, impulsive, indecisive, inflexible, inhibited, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, jealous, lazy, macho, needy, oversensitive, possessive, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, spoiled, unethical, vain, vindictive, violent, volatile
When a competitor shows up, it may force the character to reflect on why winning or being chosen is important: are they doing it for themselves or to make others happy? This could help the character to double down and fight harder, or have an epiphany that they are chasing a goal for the wrong reasons, leading to them bowing out so they can pivot toward a better goal.
If the character has been coasting thus far, competition forces them to up their game and try their best so they can discover what they are truly capable of.
Competition often leads to creativity and innovation, meaning those standing to benefit from the outcome may do so in a bigger way.
Competition can also reveal the true colors of those invested in the outcome. The character may discover their friends and supporters are fair-weather ones, and while this will hurt in the moment, longterm it allows the character to cut ties with people who are negative and focus on relationships that are healthier.
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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