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Person versus God/Deity/Supernatural Entity

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

As we continue down the road of conflicts we come next to person versus high powers.

These can show up in many forms and are very classical literature.

An extension of person versus nature can be found very immediately in person versus deity. Maybe there is a good reason to show that nature has a will of its own. It is not random or circumstance but a conscious effort on the part of the creator to oppose the human element.

Perhaps you have a mythological structure. Some of the greatest stories of mythology are fundamentally person versus gods. Odysseus and the Odyssey, the Labors of Hercules, The Monkey King, Gilgamesh, all involve stories of greater powers interfering with humanity. Modern Fantasy tales similarly deal with these kinds of issues in stories from Dragonlance, The Kingkiller Chronicles, American Gods.

In every case the fate of the protagonist or friends are controlled by the higher powers.

When dealing with this type of conflict there are several important questions to be answered which do not show up in person versus nature. Nature is indifferent, and neutral. The conflict may have good and bad sides, but there is usually only one sentient side. When the opposition is given sentience, the opposition must also be given reasons for their actions.

Why are the gods messing with the person in question? Is it personal? Is it a contest between the gods and the person is inconsequential? Is it a vendetta? Hera versus Hercules comes to mind. Did the protagonist ask for it? Many religious structures are literally humanity wrestling with god, the rules of the god, and how they want to obey or disobey them. Where did the god come from?

These are starting questions, but I would argue for the sake of verisimilitude, the most important question is this: Why is there a contest at all? What threat is there from the protagonist to the god? Why does the god / being not just immediately crush the protagonist and have done with it? If you do not have an answer to this question, it is a glaring issue that will likely break the readers ability to follow you to the end of the tale.

There are many good answers. Maybe the gods are not that powerful. They can influence events but can’t outright kill. Maybe gods keep one another in check, and they are not allowed to perform certain actions. Perhaps they are indifferent, and the character is not specifically under attack but they are under attack by proxy for other actions.

Why doesn't god smoosh the protagonist?

In addition to knowing why the God can or doesn’t just smoosh the protagonist, you must understand what is the leverage the protagonist has over the god? This can be determined by the scale of the conflict. Maybe the character is just battling for their own soul, their own freedom, or their own desires. Maybe they have nothing on the deity other than the ability to ignore them. Scaling up from there, perhaps they are combating a local deity for the rights of a village, or a law passed down from a religious order. Perhaps they have no ability to impact the gods, but they can damage their church, or their followers. Maybe you have entered high fantasy and you know that the protagonist can in fact harm the mightiest powers.

In all these cases the mechanics for how they are going about trying to achieve their goals must be clear to you.

As we depart from person versus nature and we begin to have sides to stories it becomes more important than ever to have clear reasons for actions, specific goals in mind for the characters, and motivations for those goals.

When dealing with higher powers remember they are also not always gods.

Batman Vs Superman is Man Vs God

In science fiction the higher power can take the form of an artificial intelligence or comic book style allegory. As we slip into things like nameless bureaucracy or governments as the powerful beings we begin to move toward person versus society. This again shows that these blocks of delineation are artificial and fray at the edges between types. If you however have a single unexplainable entity with more power than the protagonist can really ever have, you have started to enter into the realm of deities.

As you flesh out these conflicts, remember to keep a writer's bible. Pun intended. Keep a written record of these motivations, powers, goals and conflicts to have as quick references on your writing journey.

Go forth, and generate conflict, because writers write.

Remember to subscribe for this series and more motivation and writers tips here.

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