Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Given an Ultimatum

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 Given an Ultimatum

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, ego

Examples: “Ultimatum” is a Latin word meaning “last one.” It’s a final demand that, if not met, will result in serious consequences for the character.

In romantic relationships, an ultimatum is often an order for the character give up something (a job, dream, hobby, or another person) or risk losing the person making the demand.

Sometimes, instead of asking the character togive something up, the other person demands that the character do something they don’t want to do. At work, this might involve the character having to violate a moral code, break a promise, or marginalize someone else in order to keep their job.

While ultimatums have a largely negative connotation, keep in mind that they’re not always bad or unreasonable. Demands to stop abusing drugs, be an involved parent, get to work on time, or stick to the rules of one’s parole are legitimate ones meant to establish healthy boundaries or help the character make better choices. But that doesn’t negate the stress and conflict that result when even a well-meaning ultimatum is given.

Minor Complications:
The situation keeping the character up at night
Trouble focusing at school or work
Other relationships suffering (because the character is keeping secrets, they’re taking out the stress on their kids, etc.)
Minor health issues, such as weight loss, stomach upset, headaches or fatigue
Dragging things out and prolonging the agony (through stalling, avoidance, denial, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Not taking the other person seriously
Choosing the path that allows the character to continue in hurtful or destructive behavior
Giving in to an unreasonable ultimatum to placate the other party
Refusing to comply with a healthy ultimatum and losing an important relationship (friend, spouse, child, etc.) as a result
Listening to foolish advisors and making the wrong choice
Making a decision that results in the character living with dissatisfaction, insecurity, or regret
Giving up something the character truly loves and values

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being plagued with indecision; not knowing what to do
Resenting the person making the ultimatum
Feeling trapped and powerless
Struggling with feelings of shame or self-loathing for allowing oneself to get into this situation or be pushed around by others
The character doubting their instincts or discernment

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the person making the ultimatum, family members, co-workers and employers, neighbors, people the character is responsible for

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, defensiveness, defiant, denial, despair, desperation, determination, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, dread, fear, frustration, indignation, intimidated, panic, powerlessness, rage, reluctance, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, stunned, unappreciated, uncertainty, unease, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Addictive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, controlling, defensive, dishonest, haughty, indecisive, inflexible, irrational, melodramatic, needy, oversensitive, paranoid, stubborn, subservient, uncooperative, vindictive, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
Recognizing the need for change (in the case of a well-meant ultimatum)
Recognizing in the aftermath of an ultimatum that it was a good thing; being grateful for it
Evaluating priorities and getting a clear idea of what’s important
Knowing what one really wants
Seeing the person making the ultimatum for who they really are
Increased confidence over having made the right decision in a difficult situation

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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