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: Being Given an Ultimatum
Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, ego
“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. 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…
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.)…
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…
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being plagued with indecision; not knowing what to do
Resenting the person making the ultimatum
Feeling trapped and powerless…
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…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Addictive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, controlling…
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…
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.
New to One Stop for Writers? Swing by and check out our video walkthrough, because it’s time to change the writing game.
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.
“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
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.