Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Blackmailed

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: Being Blackmailed

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges

Blackmail occurs when one party demands compensation of some kind in return for not revealing potentially damaging (true or false) information about the victim. The possibilities for a blackmail scenario are virtually limitless when you consider the many secrets a victim may not want revealed combined with the demands the blackmailer could make. Below are a few brainstorming options to get the wheels turning:

Secrets about the victim that a blackmailer could threaten to reveal:
An affair
A hit and run accident from the past
A murder
A crime committed by their child
Damaging correspondence between the victim and another party
Information about a loved one that would be considered taboo in that time period or setting (a mental disorder, their sexual orientation, attending Communist meetings in the 1940s, etc.)
Racist comments
Accusations that were silenced or covered up
Nepotism in high places
Proof of lies
Sexual inappropriateness

In return for the blackmailer’s silence, they may demand…
Valuable items
Sexual favors
Verbal support for them or their cause
A coveted job for an ally
A scholarship or acceptance to a prestigious school for their child
That their legislation, permitting, or paperwork be pushed through
That the victim turn a blind eye to the blackmailer’s criminal behavior
The victim remove him or herself from an influential position

Minor Complications:
Lost sleep from worrying that the secret will get out
Inability to focus on work or school
Lying to many people and losing track of what has been said to whom
Having to come up with cover stories (for who the blackmailer is, where the character disappeared to for the past three hours, etc.)
Disagreeing with a confidante about what course of action should be taken
Having to cover when friends notice a change in the victim’s appearance (rapid weight loss, fatigue, lack of hygiene, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The secret (real or fabricated) getting out
The blackmailer coming back and demanding more
Giving in to a demand that requires the victim to break the law or become complicit in some way
Damaged relationships with loved ones when they discover the secret
Loved ones being threatened
Loved ones being hurt when the blackmailer wants to send a message
The victim’s children being bullied when the secret is revealed
Bankrupting oneself to pay off the blackmailer
Not giving in to demands because the accusation isn’t true, and not being believed
Ulcers, high blood pressure, a heart attack, or other serious health issues
Becoming involved in a criminal investigation because of one’s involvement with the blackmailer
Sacrificing a career, marriage, or other valuable commodity to keep the secret private

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being paralyzed with indecision about what to do
Constantly worrying over the situation
Imagining that other people know or suspect what’s going on
Wanting to confide in loved ones but needing to lie to protect them
Feeling shame or self-loathing over the transgressions from the past one is being blackmailed for
The victim contemplating taking the blackmailer out to remove the threat

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The victim’s family, innocent bystanders, people involved in the past transgression

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, anxiety, apprehension, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, dread, fear, guilt, hatred, horror, intimidated, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, vengeful, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Apathetic, defensive, impulsive, indecisive, nervous, paranoid, pessimistic, reckless, self-destructive, uncooperative, vindictive, worrywart 

Positive Outcomes: 
Coming clean about something that has been weighing on the victim’s mind for years
Finally taking responsibility for one’s actions
Confiding in someone and seeing the relationship grow stronger through the trial
Taking charge of the situation instead of always letting others dictate the character’s choices
The victim growing in confidence when they realize they have done the right thing

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.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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25 days ago

Wonderful! love you guys

Jan Sikes
Jan Sikes
26 days ago

An excellent source of conflict! Thank you for sharing!

26 days ago
Reply to  Jan Sikes

Thanks, Jan!