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: Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges
Witnessing a crime (a robbery, murder, counterfeiting operation, etc.)
Overhearing sensitive or dangerous information being shared
Discovering something about someone the character loves or respects that casts them in a negative light
Discovering another’s plans to disrupt, overthrow, or take over
Witnessing police brutality or misuse of power that could have blowback
Uncovering a terrorist plot
Witnessing another’s personal moment of vulnerability
Discovering a friend or family member’s affair by accident
Crossing a street and being hit by a car
Mistaken identity (that leads to being blamed, targeted, or held responsible for something the character had nothing to do with)
Being caught between two clashing forces
Being in a location when something terrible happens (an earthquake, terrorist event, an active shooter in the vicinity, the testing of a biological weapon, an equipment malfunction)
Having to take another route, causing a delay
Missing a meeting or appointment due to the fallout of the situation
Losing time to dealing with the aftermath (giving a police statement, waiting to be checked over by a paramedic, being held for processing, etc.)
Frustration over having to explain what happened over and over
A strained relationship from knowing something about someone that the character wishes they didn’t know (especially if both parties are aware the secret is now known)
Damage to one’s property (house, vehicle, clothing, etc.)
Having to replace a broken phone, get a car fixed after an accident, cancel credit cards that were stolen, etc.
Suffering discrimination or obstacles in the aftermath
Restricted communication (a broken or lost phone, being physically incapacitated) and being unable to check in with loved ones or get help
Freedoms impacted (being held by police, being restrained or taken until everything can be sorted out)
Being quarantined or kept in a hospital for observation
Having to take tests and wait for the results to come back
Having to hide or change a routine until the threat has passed
Having to get a lawyer to straighten things out
Being pestered by the press
Losing one’s privacy
Being pressured to “forget” what the character saw
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being viewed as a threat and fired (or booted out of an organization, etc.)
Being placed in life-threatening danger
Becoming responsible for the welfare of others when the character doesn’t feel capable or want such responsibility
The character’s reputation being ruined to discredit them as a possible witness
Being forced into becoming part of a cover-up
Being identified as a witness, placing the character and possibly loved ones in danger
Being targeted by people looking to silence a witness
Being turned into a scapegoat by those in power
Suffering a serious injury
Being hospitalized with no insurance
Ending up in a coma, with memory loss, or with a permanent disability
Being exposed to a chemical or virus doctors can’t identify to treat
A blown cover due to news coverage (being recognized by an abusive ex-spouse, enemies, authorities, etc.) who mean the character harm
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Trying to decide what to do: tell the truth, or lie
Trying to move forward when it’s difficult to do so
Self-blame (for not foreseeing what would happen, for not taking a different route, for not reacting differently at the moment, etc.)
Warring between self-preservation and the welfare of others
Guilt knowing that silence means others escape justice
Needing to talk about what happened but feeling unable to (or having no one who would understand)
Being guilted into staying quiet when the character knows it’s wrong
Moral struggles over doing the right thing when it means the character is placing themselves in danger (possibly losing their job by outing a corrupt boss or testifying in court after witnessing a shooting and being targeted by the cartel who ordered the hit)
Being pressured to frame what happened in a certain way to protect others involved
Guilt at being offered opportunities and advancements, knowing these are not deserved but rather to encourage silence
Regret at not doing more or making a different choice
Shame at giving in and protecting those responsible out of fear
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: innocent bystanders, victims and their families (if one doesn’t come forward as a witness, or provide aid), family members (who may be targeted in an effort to ensure silence)
Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, appalled, betrayed, conflicted, disbelief, disgust, disillusionment, dread, embarrassment, empathy, fear, grief, guilt, horror, inadequate, intimidated, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, pity, powerlessness, regret, remorse, resentment, self-loathing, shame, shock, tormented, vindicated, vulnerability, worry
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: confrontational, cowardly, dishonest, disloyal, flaky, foolish, gossipy, impulsive, inattentive, judgmental, nervous, obsessive, paranoid, reckless, tactless, vindictive, violent, volatile, weak-willed
Discovering information the character never expected to may open their eyes to what was right in front of them but they were missing. While hurt or disillusionment may follow, knowing who is genuine and who is not will help the character cut toxic people out of their life and make more informed choices moving forward.
While a difficult and unexpected situation is never desired, it may help your character better see their own worth when they step up and meet the moment.
Often a situation like this leads to moral choices. A character looking for redemption may find it by doing the right thing whether it is immediate, or it takes time to gain the courage to do so in the aftermath.
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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