Writing

What Is a Character vs. God Conflict? Learn About the Literary Conflict With Examples

Written by MasterClass

Jun 6, 2019 • 3 min read

Conflict is a fundamental element in storytelling, propelling the narrative forward and creating tension and drama. When characters face a religious conflict in literature, it is known as a character vs. god conflict.

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What Is a Character vs. God Conflict in Literature?

In literature, stories driven by character vs. god conflict feature a protagonist who is in conflict with a god, religion, or fate. The conflict can stem from a character’s inner turmoil with religion or an external clash with organized religion or an actual god, as is often seen in Greek mythology.

The character vs. god conflict originated in Greek mythology, where gods constantly dabbled in the fate of humans. In Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus travels home after the Trojan War, only to face several gods who thwart his attempts, keeping him adrift on the Mediterranean for ten years. The use of multiple antagonists creates ongoing conflict in this epic, increasing the dramatic tension.

What are the 6 Types of Literary Conflicts?

There are six main types of literary conflicts, each serving a different purpose in a story.

  1. Character vs. Self
  2. Character vs. Character
  3. Character vs. Nature
  4. Character vs. God/Supernatural
  5. Character vs. Technology
  6. Character vs. Society

Learn more about the six types of conflict in our complete guide here.

2 Examples of Character vs. God Conflict in Contemporary Literature

God, fate, and religion are rife with conflict. In literature, this conflict translates into compelling, character-driven narratives. Here are some examples of how writers have used god vs. religion as a source of conflict.

  1. Dan Brown, Origin. Dan Brown’s draws religion, art, and the theory of evolution together. A wealthy tech entrepreneur claims he has scientific proof that will put an end to the belief in organized religion. When he turns up dead, a Catholic Bishop is the prime suspect. Origin uses the character vs. god conflict to parallel the real-world tension between science and religion. Learn more about writing conflict in Dan Brown’s MasterClass.
  2. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. In this fantasy novel, good and evil are represented by an angel and demon in human form who have joined forces against the impending apocalypse. Eleven-year-old Adam is, unknowingly, the Antichrist—an adversary of Christ and the Devil’s pawn—who must usher in the apocalypse. The character vs. God conflict is represented by Adam’s internal struggle between his responsibilities as the Antichrist and doing what he knows to be right, even if it changes the course of fate.

How to Use Character vs. God Conflict in 5 Steps

Whether you’re writing a short story or a novel, a character vs. god conflict can add tension and create richer, more complex characters. Here are tips for how to use a character vs. god conflict in your writing.

  • Define your character’s goals. From the beginning of the story, introduce your character along with the goal that’s their driving force. How does getting what they want conflict with religion? How is the character vs. god conflict going to push your story forward?
  • Know your religion. Unless you’re inventing a new religion in your novel, do your research. Know what you’re writing about: this means symbols, rites, rituals, and beliefs. Mine those artifacts for an antagonistic element that can be used to heighten the conflict.
  • Pick your POV. In a narrative driven by a character vs. god conflict, it’s a good idea to have at least some of the conflict play out internally in order to create morally ambiguous characters who struggle with questions surrounding the nature of faith. Write in either first person (where your protagonist is the narrator and reveals their thoughts) or third-person limited omniscient (where your narrator is an outside observer who has access to your protagonist and their thoughts).
  • Create imagery for the intangible. Unless you’re writing a story about Greek mythology and direct, external conflict, there are not many built-in visuals that represent a character vs. god conflict. Map out how you’re going to represent god and religion. What symbolic representations can you incorporate? How are you going to help the reader visualize the conflict?
  • Choose a symbolic setting. Dan Brown’s novel Origin takes place in Italy, a country with a rich religious history. Carefully consider the setting for your story and your scenes. Are there particular places that have some significance to the character vs. god conflict you’re exploring?

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