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: Experiencing Discrimination or Harassment
Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control
Discrimination: being treated unfairly by someone because of a characteristic or activity
Harassment: aggressive intimidation because of a characteristic or activity
Both of these scenarios involve prejudicial treatment—meaning, a person with prejudice or bias made a judgment about the character based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, nationality, level of education, political affiliation, etc. But harassment often occurs repeatedly, making it a more personally targeted action. They both can occur anywhere—in any environment, relationship, organization, etc.‚—and the ways in which they can occur are, sadly, myriad. Your character may experience discrimination or harassment if any of these characteristics factor into the following scenarios:
Not getting a job or promotion despite being the best candidate
Being paid less than someone else doing the same job
Being excluded from a club, team, or other groups…
The character having to hide their feelings in the moment because it isn’t safe to address the treatment
Inconveniences arising from avoiding the person/place where discrimination occurs
Damaged relationships (looking at someone differently because of what they did or didn’t do)…
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Not being supported by those with influence (being asked to “let it go”)
Telling others about the treatment and not being believed
The character lowering their expectations to match those of the discriminator or harasser…
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Discriminatory experiences causing a war between hope that things will change and losing faith in humanity
Trying to decide whether to call out the behavior or not (especially if the character fears negative fallout by doing so)
Internalizing the treatment (believing that what was said is true)…
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Co-workers, the character’s family members, neighbors, other people in the same demographic
Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, defiant…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, cynical, hypocritical, ignorant, inhibited…
Standing up for what’s right and seeing a positive change because of it
Shining the light on a wrong and exposing it
Educating people and gaining allies for the cause…
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.
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.
Diversity is a topic near/dear to my villainous heart but the flip side–and I think one of our most important duties in fiction–is honestly depicting the horrors of discrimination. Thanks for posting this, I can’t wait to share.
BECCA PUGLISI says
I was nervous writing this one because I have little (if any) experience with it. But it’s such an important (and relevant) area of conflict to explore. I hope it helps.