As a writer, I’ve learned the tricks and tools seem to come on in a series of revelations. You learn one tool for one task, and free association applies that same trick to something else. New skills make you better everywhere else, too. (I’ve seen this in more than just writing, but that’s another discussion.)
Early on in my life as a writer, I found I was good at putting together fight scenes. They came naturally to me and I got high praise for my physical conflict. But I was always bad with other kinds of conflict, namely any time someone is talking.
Years go on, and I improve, but my dialogue and drama is never as good as my combat. Then I got to edit someone’s piece that was strictly dialogue.
I realized my problem. Besides being open about intention (A sin in any conflict), I was treating it differently, not realizing that a lot of what made fights interesting could also make other conflicts interesting.
Give and Take
Neither party should be an obvious superior for really biting conflicts. Let the protagonist struggle, after all, it’s near failure that’s interesting. At the same time, you can’t let his first chance at the upper hand be the one that wins.
It’s the play between winning and losing that helps build the tension and makes conflict really satisfying.
In combat scenes, it’s the feints, the fake jabs and hidden goals that make things interesting. I’ve found in other sorts of conflict, it’s the same, there’s just no injury involved.
The ending of a short term conflict (A scene) should have repercussions. A sword fight leaves both members injured, or at least out of breath. Debates should leave characters thinking. Romantic encounters of course should leave people feeling.
But what about bigger conflicts?
When I write fight scenes for the climax, one person is usually left soundly defeated, and in fantasy, often dead. But the hero never comes away unscathed. I turned that to other forms of conflict, and realize that even after a full character arc that puts the protagonist in a place to face the climax, the climax itself should affect a change as well. No good deed goes unpunished.