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: Lacking an Important Resource
Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control
Examples: Characters are always going to be somewhat goal-oriented-whether they’re pursuing an overall story goal or a smaller-level scene one. When they lack the resources they need to get what they want, it creates a problem. Conflict can easily be generated if a character finds themselves lacking one of the following:
Food or water
A safe place to live or stay
Lost time and energy as the character turns their focus to obtaining the resource
Tempers flaring among allies as time passes and emotions escalate…
Potentially Disastrous Results:
Losing allies or investors who are tired of waiting for the character to gather what they need
A window of opportunity closing while the character is obtaining resources
The character cutting corners in obtaining resources, resulting in disastrous results…
Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Stressing and worrying over how the resource can be obtained
Blaming oneself for not getting the resource before the lack became a problem
The character doubting their ability to lead or fulfill their role…
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Anyone on the character’s team or in their group, people depending on whatever the character is trying to achieve (leading a revolution, building a bomb shelter, getting from one location to another, etc.)
Resulting Emotions: Annoyance, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, concern, defensiveness, denial…
Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, fussy, impatient, impulsive…
Discovering skills the character didn’t know they possessed
Becoming more organized
Getting better at anticipating problems before they occur; being proactive…
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.