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: Public Humiliation
Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego
Infidelity being made public (through a sign on the lawn, a billboard ad, announcing it at a wedding or family event, in a mass email, or on social media)
Having private letters, images, or video shared online
The character being negatively singled out in front of peers…
Embarrassment, guilt, or shame (or all three)
Friends and connections who distance themselves, leaving the character to deal with the fallout alone
The rumor mill spinning, adding to the drama…
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being scrutinized to the point that other secrets come to light
A marriage breakdown
Being abandoned by family, friends, employers, etc…
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Self-directed anger at a mistake or shortcoming warring against anger at others for exploiting it
Self-pity facing off against acknowledging they knew the risks and have only themselves to blame
Wishing one wasn’t caught yet being relieved that the secret no longer needs to be kept…
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character, their family and friends, the business they work for, any groups, organizations, or connections they have that may be negatively affected by the publicity
Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, defensiveness, despair, devastation…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, compulsive, confrontational, cruel, evil…
If a secret is holding the character back, having it in the open at last might create a pathway to acknowledging the pain surrounding it, taking accountability (if this is a factor), and taking steps to finally move past it
Humiliation can open the character’s eyes to the true nature of others, helping them to take the step to cut toxic forces from their life
While humiliation is terrible to live through, sometimes hitting rock bottom is what will trigger the realization that something must change. This can lead to change, growth, and regaining control over the future…
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.
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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.
Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is a prime example of this EXCELLENT conflict source. Thanks for sharing.