Conflict is at the heart of any story. Some of the most exciting conflicts involve magical or supernatural elements. This type of conflict is called character vs. supernatural conflict.
Grab your magic wand, take the brake off your TARDIS, and get ready to explore the character vs. supernatural conflict.
What Is the Definition of Man vs. Supernatural Conflict?
Character vs. supernatural is a type of conflict in storytelling in which the protagonist or protagonists are working against supernatural forces.
These forces operate outside the laws of nature, meaning they might have special powers or abilities or access to something other characters do not.
Some writers and scholars lump person vs. supernatural into the same category as person vs. fate conflict, while others consider character vs. fate a separate type of conflict.
Supernatural forces can look like many different things in stories.
They could be something magical, like witches or wizards. The conflict might involve ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or other paranormal elements.
Science fiction can also have a supernatural conflict, if the science element is far enough beyond realistic laws of nature. Some person vs. supernatural stories involve a god or gods.
Typically, you can expect to find man vs. supernatural conflicts in genre fiction like fantasy, paranormal, or sci-fi.
However, there are some great person vs. supernatural stories in classic literature. We’ll look at plenty of examples later.
It’s important to note that traditionally the types of conflict are worded as “man versus”, with man referring to humankind.
To be more inclusive and accurate, many writers, scholars, and readers prefer to use the terms “person versus” or “character versus”. We’ll use all three interchangeably in this article.
Is Person vs. Supernatural External or Internal Conflict?
There are seven types of conflict in fiction. They are:
- Man vs. man
- Man vs. self
- Man vs. society
- Man vs. nature
- Man vs. supernatural
- Man vs. fate/destiny
- Man vs. technology
Each of these conflicts falls under one of two umbrellas: internal conflict (a struggle occurring inside a character’s mind) or external conflict (a struggle between the character and an outside force).
So, what type of conflict is person vs. supernatural?
The person vs. supernatural conflict is typically considered a type of external conflict because the source of conflict is occurring outside the character.
Things get a bit muddier when the supernatural force is a vengeful god or gods.
If the primary conflict is an internal spiritual struggle with a deity, as in the Christian-fiction genre, then we could consider it an internal conflict and part of the character vs. fate/destiny trope.
However, when the conflict with a deity is not about a spiritual reckoning but an actual conflict with a deity with a physical embodiment, we can consider it an external conflict.
Why Do Readers Love Person vs. Supernatural Stories?
Person vs. supernatural stories have a long history—possibly as long as humans have existed!
Mythologies were created to explain the world around us. Before science, humans found answers in the supernatural.
These types of stories have persisted, even though we understand them as fiction and not fact.
Joseph Campbell, the scholar who illustrated the Hero’s Journey, studied myths, legends, and stories his entire life.
He found that there are common themes, plot devices, and conflicts across time and location.
Why? Well, one reason is: it’s fun. Worlds with magic or mad scientists or mermaids are immersive. If you’re looking for escapism, a person vs. supernatural story is a good place to start.
But character versus supernatural conflicts are also inspiring. We often face conflicts in life that are out of our control, and yet we keep fighting against them.
Stories where characters fight the supernatural and succeed despite all odds are empowering. They tell us that we can keep fighting, even if the entire Greek pantheon is against us.
Character vs. supernatural stories feature themes like struggle and persistence, courage, the indomitable human spirit, good vs. evil, and other larger-than-life ideas.
And if there’s a sprinkle of fairy dust along with these heavy themes, it makes the lessons easier to learn.
How Do You Write a Character vs. Supernatural Conflict?
Writing a person vs. supernatural story can be daunting. It’s important to ask yourself what your supernatural force is supposed to represent.
Supernatural elements alone don't make a great story. They need to have a purpose. Are you representing the fight between good and evil? Critiquing a certain political stance, or a prejudice within society?
What theme or message are you trying to convey?
Once you’ve decided on what the force is representing, it’s time to dive into worldbuilding.
What are the laws of your world?
How does the supernatural element fit in?
Importantly, how does the supernatural element bend the laws of your world?
How much backstory do you need?
Once you understand the overall message or theme of your story, and you have the logistics of your world figured out, you can plot the conflict.
Keep in mind that stories often have multiple conflicts.
I recommend plotting out the external supernatural conflict first as the supernatural element will likely be the glue that holds your story together.
It's easy to get lost in backstory when you've built a whole supernatural world in your head.
You can easily balance backstory with the action using ProWritingAid's Pacing Report.
It can help you identify slower sections of your novel that may require some dialogue or action to break them up and make them easier to read.
What Is an Example of Character vs. Supernatural Conflict?
There are plenty of great examples of the character vs. supernatural conflict.
We’ve divided these examples into literature/books and movies and TV shows.
What Are Some Examples of Person vs. Supernatural in Literature?
Let’s look at some examples of man vs. supernatural conflicts from ancient literature to modern.
Character vs. Supernatural Conflict in The Odyssey
Our first example dates back millennia. Homer’s Odyssey is one of the most classic examples of man vs. supernatural.
Odysseus angers the god Poseidon after blinding and mocking the god’s cyclops son. Poseidon curses Odysseus not to return home for ten years.
Odysseus encounters monsters, a witch, sirens, and more that keep him from returning home to his wife.
He eventually makes it back to Ithaca and reunites with his wife and son.
Through the supernatural elements, the epic poem explores the themes of homecoming, wandering, and perseverance.
Character vs. Supernatural Conflict in The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien features the character versus supernatural conflict.
The One Ring is imbued with magical powers and is linked to its creator, Sauron. Sauron’s physical form was destroyed, but he continues to exist as a giant eye that can see across Middle Earth.
The Ring drives its owner to madness, but its only loyalty is to Sauron.
This supernatural conflict causes other conflicts, like the war for Middle Earth, various character conflicts, and Frodo’s internal conflict. It’s a classic tale of good vs. evil.
Character vs. Supernatural Conflict in The Haunting of Hill House
Before it was made into movies and a Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House was a popular gothic horror novel by Shirley Jackson.
In this book, four people stay at a haunted house to document their encounters with the paranormal. They experience a wide variety of ghostly happenings.
One character in particular, Eleanor, is susceptible to the forces in Hill House. She eventually becomes possessed by the house.
The supernatural element in the form of hauntings is used to explore the themes of isolation, the search for home, and supernatural vs. psychological terrors.
Character vs. Supernatural Conflict in A Discovery of Witches
A more recent example is the critically acclaimed novel by Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches.
The protagonist, Diana Bishop, was born a witch, but she has rejected that supernatural part of herself. However, her powers are activated by an ancient manuscript.
Diana becomes part of a supernatural world and even falls in love with a vampire, adding a paranormal relationship conflict to the mix.
The themes that are explored through the character vs. supernatural conflict are forbidden love, self-discovery, and embracing of one’s roots.
These are just a few examples. As fantasy and paranormal fiction become increasingly popular, it’s easy to find modern examples of supernatural conflicts.
What Are Some Examples of Man vs. Supernatural in Pop Culture?
Person vs. supernatural stories are popular in Hollywood. Here are some movies and TV shows that use this conflict.
Person vs. Supernatural Conflict in Thor
Most superhero films have a man vs. supernatural conflict. One example is Thor (2011). Thor and Loki are Norse gods, and in this universe also aliens.
Thor must earn back his godly powers of controlling thunder and lightning and wielding Mjolnir. He must also fight his devious brother, Loki, who tries to kill him with an automaton.
They fight and destroy the Bifrost, which is their means for traveling between worlds. The supernatural elements highlight themes of family and honor, maturity and worthiness, and power.
Person vs. Supernatural Conflict in Once Upon a Time
ABC and Disney partnered to create Once Upon a Time. This TV show made all of the familiar fairy-tale characters real and trapped in our world.
The Evil Queen from Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin were two of the primary villains for much of the series.
These characters have many magical powers, and portals between the fairy tale world and the real world opened to introduce new characters.
These classic tales were given a supernatural twist.
Throughout the series, characters learned about good vs. evil, the redeeming power of love, and the dangers of being obsessed with power.
Person vs. Supernatural Conflict in Supernatural
And no list of character vs. supernatural stories would be complete without a mention of Supernatural. It’s in the title, after all!
Sam and Dean Winchester face a new supernatural conflict in every episode. These brothers spend their lives fighting demons, monsters, and more otherworldly characters.
Serious topics are broached through these fun stories, like death and resurrection and good vs. evil.
There is some heavy Christian mythology woven throughout the series, which explores theology through monsters, angels, demons, and magic.
Supernatural proves that people love character vs. supernatural stories—it lasted for fifteen seasons!
Why Should I Write a Man vs. Supernatural Conflict?
There is no shortage of supernatural conflicts on the silver screen or in literature.
Choosing to add a man vs. supernatural conflict to your story can make your story engaging for readers as these stories have been around for millennia, and they aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
What are some of your favorite character vs. supernatural examples? Are you writing a man vs. supernatural story? Let us know in the comments.