Conflict Thesaurus Entry: The Death of a Pet

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.

pet, death, grief

Conflict: The Death of a Pet

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, loss of control

Examples: Pets provide so much encouragement, love, and comfort that their loss can be a huge blow—especially when it’s unexpected or brings with it an element of guilt. Tack this debilitating event onto the end of a string of minor conflicts, and it can be the proverbial final straw that pushes a character over the edge.

Minor Complications:
Needing to do something with all the pet products in the house because looking at them causes too much pain
Having to make final arrangements (if the pet is going to be cremated, preserved through taxidermy, etc.)
Having to explain the death after the fact (when the vet’s office calls months later with a reminder about a scheduled appointment, to neighbors who ask about its absence, etc.)
Seeing pets that look similar to one’s own, and being reminded of him or her
Having to get used to new routines that don’t involve the pet (going for walks alone, riding in the car alone, sleeping by oneself, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Adopting a new pet and realizing that one wasn’t ready
A well-meaning loved one buying a replacement pet for the character before they’re ready to start again
Being unable to adopt another pet because the character was partly to blame for the death of the first one
Family members needing opposing things in order to heal—i.e., one person needing to get a new pet and the other being unable to do so)
The pet dying on or near the anniversary of another loss (the loss of a parent, a miscarriage, the finalization of a divorce, etc.)
The pet dying in the same way as an important loved one
The pet dying in a gruesome or violent way, and the character being unable to move past it
One’s children struggling with the pet’s passing
Losing a support pet and not being able to function without it
Being unfairly blamed by a grieving family member for the pet’s death
The pet’s death being part of a crime, and the character having to keep revisiting the details in a criminal investigation
Remaining pets pining away for their friend

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Blaming oneself (legitimately or not) for the death
Wanting another pet but being afraid of losing it and having to experience grief again
Being unable to forgive a family member for the part they played (even accidentally) in the pet’s death

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family members

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, bitterness, denial, depressed, despair, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, dread, grief, guilt, loneliness, longing, nostalgia, overwhelmed, remorse, sadness, shock

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Irrational, martyr, melodramatic, needy, nervous

Positive Outcomes: 
Remembering the good times
The character recognizing the good they did in taking in an animal needing a home
Deciding to contribute a monetary gift to an animal charity in the pet’s memory
Adopting another pet in need of a loving family
The character realizing that the love and companionship they experienced is worth the risk of loss

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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Trine Grillo
19 days ago

This is a very helpful post which has given some great ideas to work with.