Table of Conflicts in Sci-Fi (and other genres)

Featured image credit: Now Novel

You can’t have a story without conflict. Science Fiction is no different than any other genre in this regard, except there is an element of science involved somewhere.


Conflict can arise from the environment or setting; characters – inner (mental), outer (physical), or between the antagonist and protagonist; or situational – choices that need to be made or a problem that needs to be solved.

One problem that needs to be solved is that there is no complete list of conflicts for authors! There are posts on the 6 main TYPES of conflicts, posts on one CATEGORY of conflicts and generators that give you conflict ideas one at a time, but no catch all list for reference.

Well, hat’s off to you, because you found one!

Now go make your characters suffer many many times over.

Environment (Man against nature)

  • Apocalypse of zombies or aliens or other epidemic/outbreak
  • Nuclear blast/gunfire/war/weapons
  • Buried Alive
  • Attack by human/animal/insect/alien without weapons
  • Falling/down mountain/off building/off cliff/into hole/through ice/into cave
  • Avalanche/mud slide
  • Tsunami/riptide/river rapids/whirlpool/non-amphibious vehicle into lake
  • Fire
  • Tornado/Hurricane/Lightning storm/sand storm/Odd storm
  • Lost
  • Stampede/Crowd

Character (man against man or man against self)


  • Financial/loss of job/can’t buy food/
  • Deep Distress/Despair/Depression/Grief/Deep Shame/Guilt/Self-doubt
  • Mental Illness
  • Supernatural powers/their own or inflicted by antagonist/
  • Fear
  • Social Problems/bullying/discredited/vilified/


  • Choking/loss of oxygen/buried alive/airlock
  • Hunger
  • Sleep deprivation/exhaustion/dehydration/heat stroke
  • Cramp while swimming/sore muscles/weakness from exertion
  • Stuck/small space/accident
  • Torture/Incarceration/Short-term injuries
  • Poison/lethal injection/virus/bacterial infection
  • Long-Term injuries/Health Conditions/Pregnancy
  • Vice/addiction/

Social Emotional (man against self or man against society)

  • Poverty-stricken existence/hard, cold or unloving family/rigidly religious or intolerant community
  • Ingrained societal values/customs/traditions
  • Belief based on past trauma –
    • I’m worthless (Will in Good Will Hunting);
    • I can’t survive without a rich man to take care of me (Rose in Titanic);
    • If I show people my true (ugly and scary) self, I’ll be hated, feared and rejected (Shrek)
  • Live in fantasy world/avoid conflict/push people away
  • False identity – act big and bad, but is a softie or vice versa
  • Fear intimacy/fear commitment/secret fear/
  • Criminal activity/vandalism/violence/at odds with ruling power
  • Seek attention/Impulsive/create conflict to hide fear of inner conflict or avoid dealing with inner conflict
  • Betrayal/adultery/shameful incident
  • Emotional conflict causing relationship problems or a barrier to character moving forward
  • Moral dilemma – hero must break laws/dilemma of values/ethical dilemma – against his profession/choice between two bad options/break a promise or vow
  • Overprotective
  • Indecisive
  • Temptation
  • Passion takes them away from loved ones

Situational (includes man against technology or man against supernatural)

  • Life issues/moving/career change/new baby/loss of loved one
  • Technological breakdowns/A.I. takeover
  • Vehicular failure/flat tire/engine out
  • Time/two events occur at same time/time travel/
  • Hostage
  • Forced to act differently – coward is brave, shy is aggressive
  • Forced union of incompatibles – human in cartoon world
  • Change of state – become animal, cartoon, beast, demon, angel, super
  • Forced choices (often leads to conflict resolution)



33 ways to create inner conflict

15 ways to make your characters suffer

Extra credit: The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

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