The Craft of Writing — November 2021


The Conflict Thesaurus


CONFLICT! We avoid it in our personal lives, but as authors, we embrace it. And today, I am thrilled to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi to the Craft of Writing blog to talk about their new thesaurus: The Conflict Thesaurus.

For those who may not be familiar with Angela and Becca, they have produced nine thesauri to help us write our books. From the very first one, the wildly popular Emotion Thesaurus, they have provided us with the tools we need to keep our readers turning the pages.

In addition, Angela and Becca host the Writers Helping Writers website, at

The last time they appeared on the Craft of Writing blog, we played a game where readers could test their skill at identifying a particular emotion based on description. This time, they’ve created an interactive game for you to go on an imaginary journey with the two of them. It’s called The Conflict Challenge, and your result will depend on the choices you make along the way. There’s a link in the last question of the interview to take you to the game.


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Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Available in eight languages, their guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold 750,000 copies.

Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters.

Please visit them at the sites above because they love to connect with people in the writing industry. And if you’re ready to see your writing skills take a giant leap, give the free trial at One Stop for Writers a spin.   

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Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!


What prompted the two of you to develop the series of thesauri?

Angela: After the response to our flagship thesaurus and book, The Emotion Thesaurus, we realized that writers needed help with more than just describing emotions. Their struggle in this area was a part of something much bigger: understanding what show-don’t-tell truly meant and how to apply it across all elements of storytelling via description.

What was the first book, and when did it come out?

Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was actually first, and it started at our blog. When we began Writers Helping Writers (then, called The Bookshelf Muse) in 2008, we started posting about a new emotion each week, highlighting the physical cues, thoughts, and internal sensations associated with each so writers would see how to show those emotions instead of telling them to their readers. We didn’t know at the time what a universal problem the telling of emotion was; this became clear as our following grew and people began clamoring for more. Based on the response to The Emotion Thesaurus, we decided to publish it in book form in 2012. An expanded and updated 2nd edition followed in 2019.

Why did you decide to write The Conflict Thesaurus?

Angela: Our mission is to show writers how to strengthen their storytelling, and this means diving into all elements that power great fiction and showing writers how to activate them better. Conflict is a primary, must-have story ingredient because it supplies resistance. For a story to be compelling, we need problems, challenges, and adversaries (outer conflict) that force the character to fight for what they want and cause the outcome to be uncertain. We also need personal struggles (internal conflict) that provides a chance to look within at the maelstrom of fears, beliefs, needs, desires, and pain that may be shaping their decisions and actions. As they say, knowledge is power, and the character understanding themselves better and making necessary changes can be the difference between success and failure. Written well, inner and outer conflict will hold readers captive until the last page is turned.

Tell us about The Conflict Thesaurus.

Becca: The Conflict Thesaurus explores different conflict options in a variety of categories from relationship friction to no-win-scenarios to moral dilemmas and temptations. Each conflict entry looks at the minor complications, potentially disastrous results, and internal struggles that could arise in that scenario, as well as exploring possible positive outcomes and attributes that could help the character cope in the meantime. These entries are what most authors are looking for, because they offer brainstorming options and explain how each scenario could wreak havoc in the story. But we believe that the instructive front matter is just as vital, because it provides a tutorial on what conflict is, its role in a story, and how it fits into the character arc. It even provides a database of possible adversaries that can help stir the pot. So there’s a lot here for writers wanting to either find possible conflicts or learn more about this important storytelling element.


Can you give us some examples of conflict that are included in your latest book?

Angela: There are 110 different conflict scenarios represented, and each can be endlessly adapted. It’s all about finding a complication that takes things from bad to worse. Maybe a character finds themselves fending off an Unwanted Romantic Romance, or they discover they’ve Been Manipulated. Possibly they Break Something Important, Cause an Accident, or Confide in the Wrong Person. It could be they’ve been Given an Ultimatum, their Deadline Has Been Moved Up, or they are faced with a painful choice: Sacrificing One Thing for Another. Whatever the conflict, we provide ideas on what the fallout would be, everything from minor complications to an array of disastrous results. The list of scenarios we cover can be found here, along with a few sample entries that you can see as an example.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Becca: My best piece of advice is for new authors to set clear goals. For most of us, writing started out as a hobby. I think this is why so many people want to write a novel but never do: because hobbies are low on the priority list. Make your writing a priority by deciding what you want to accomplish and setting reasonable but challenging goals. This could be a daily or weekly word count or time-based goal, a deadline for finishing your first draft, a certain number of query letters you’ll send out each week, or a five-year overall goal that clearly defines what success will look like for you. Knowing what you want and setting related objectives will put you on the path to getting where you want to go.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Angela: We love helping writers develop their skills, and we have two powerful ways to do that: our Writers Helping Writers site where we blog about writing craft and you can find out more about our books, and then One Stop for Writers, which is a bit of a writer’s utopia as we provide all the tools, resources, and step-by-step help a storyteller will need. to plan, write, and revise their way to a best-selling book. Even better? It shortens the learning curve as just by using our tools, you grow your writing abilities.

Okay. It’s time for the game. Please tell readers about The Conflict Challenge.

Becca: This challenge puts you in the hot seat as the main character in our fun and campy story. Like the protagonists in your own books, you’ll face a series of conflict scenarios and will be given choices about how to respond. Choose poorly, and you probably won’t make it. Choose wisely, and there are prizes to be won! Here’s the premise:

You’ve been invited to join Angela and Becca on a writing retreat in Alberta, Canada. They’ve rented out all the cabins of an old summer camp that closed down ten years ago only after a single season…which is sort of odd, but this remote Rocky Mountain location with no cell reception seems like a perfect place to get some writing done. Will you accept the invitation to join them at Deadwood Falls Summer Camp?

Readers, click here to take the challenge. Don’t forget to come back and let us know how you did!

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!


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  • Thanks so much for having us, Kay! And good luck to everyone who takes on the Conflict Challenge!

  • Thank you, Kay! It’s always good to chat with you 🙂

  • debbieburkewriter

    Thanks for the interview, Kay, Angela, and Becca. Your guides are a big help to add variety rather than fall back on the same old gestures and facial expressions.

    On first drafts, I don’t worry too much about cliched actions or overusing a particular gesture–my characters are always grimacing and shrugging. But on subsequent drafts, I consult your guides for fresh ways to express emotions, physical actions, etc.

    • Good morning, Debbie, and thanks for stopping in!

      I just finished reading the last book in your Tawny Lindholm series. You must have gotten an advance copy of The Conflict Thesaurus 😊 because “Flight to Forever” provides lots of conflict along with the suspense. Great job! I’m looking forward to seeing what Tawny and Tillman are up to next.

    • so glad the guide helps you think beyond those first emotional expressions. We read about the common ones and do those always come to mind immediately. So taking a few moments to instead think of something fresh that fits our character is so worth the effort!

  • Thanks for a wonderful interview. I have the first book and plan to add the others to my library. I will be taking the challenge soon.

  • Good afternoon! Great interview and I have a new favorite word – “thesauri.” Congratulations, Becca and Angela on The Conflict Thesaurus being a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. Way to go! And thank you for reaching writers the way that you have. What a wonderful way to give. I’m eager to take the Conflict Challenge later today and REALLY eager to examine your book.

    • Hi Lisa, and thank you for stopping in. The thesauri (so happy I took Latin in junior high 🙂 ) are wonderful additions to the writers’ toolbox, and The Conflict Thesaurus is very helpful.

      Btw, speaking of conflict, I seem to remember some pretty tense moments in both of your books, right? Although “Stork Bite” is very different in nature from “All In,” they both use that all-important conflict to keep the reader’s attention.

      Have a great day!

    • Thank you, Lisa (and Kay!) for the kind words. Conflict is such a foundational piece of storytelling and we love to nerd out about it. Good luck against Camp Deadwood!

  • Great post, Kay. And thanks, Angela and Becca, for writing the Conflict Thesaurus. That’s three of the thesauri that I now have. Great tools! I look forward to using the Conflict Thesaurus for my WIP.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Steve. I’m eager to get going on your Mad River Magic series. I have the first book downloaded to my ipad, and I’ll dive in later this week. I read the blurb on Amazon, and “The Hemlock Aperture” sounds amazing. It also sounds like there is some interesting conflict going on.

    • I hope the book really helps you, Steve!

  • One of your best interviews, Kay. Largely because the discipline Angela and Becca have been developing is so rich and so important for writers, new and “old,” to avail themselves of. Our home writer’s library includes both The Emotion Thesaurus and The Conflict Thesaurus. Thanks, ladies, for providing resources writers really require, even if they don’t know it yet!

    A question for Angela and Becca: With such a large database of information supporting your thesauri, how do you check everything?

    May your writings continue to proliferate.

    • Good evening, Frank. Great question — I’ll be interested to see how Angela and Becca respond.

      I seem to remember you have some very tense moments in your upcoming novel, “Laser Trap.” What’s the latest on the release date?

  • Hi Frank,

    I know it can seem overwhelming when it comes to all the things we need to consider when writing a story. I think a few things can help – 1) having a learner’s mindset. The more we learn about the mechanics of writing and show-don’t-tell, the more we absorb and naturally begin to proactively write a certain way, and so we write “stronger” so there is less to check. 2) to become proactive and try to understand the big picture of our story before we start writing. If we understand who our characters are, what they want, what’s holding them back from happiness, and how they sort of self-sabbotage themselves due to fear, we will have a really good handle on what the story is about, what the character arc is, and most importantly, how our characters will think and behave on the page. When we know these things, writing their actions, choices, emotions, etc. becomes much easier and we will know what types of conflict will poke their soft spots. 3) taking things a bite at a time. If we try to learn and fix “all the things” at once, we can feel like out stories are so messy they can’t be fixed, and then we lose hope and want to quit. And then finally, 4) to have a solid plan for revision. This is tied to #3 in that if we try to revise everything at once, it feels like such an impossible task. But if we go in passes, taking the big picture things and creating a strong foundation and then working on certain things during different passes, that makes everything manageable and we hit all the main areas.

    Becca and I know revising can be a huge task and it’s easy to get lost, so we created The Storyteller’s Roadmap at One Stop for Writers that breaks down the revision process step-by-step. It also helps with the planning and the writing, too. It’s worth looking into if you do struggle with any part of the writing process. 🙂 Here’s the link if you ever need it:

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