What does your character learn? It seems to be one of the key questions when dealing with novel length fiction in particular, and it’s one that I increasingly feel is important. There is a real danger in fantasy, and especially the sort where you produce long series, that you don’t want the character to change too much, because that leaves nothing for the next one.
Yet that can cause real problems. All too often, you end up with the sort of thing where you set out a perfectly normal fantasy series of events, but there is no feeling of connection between the character and those events. What the character needs in terms of growth is such a huge springboard when it comes to creating scenes and other characters.
I often feel that it’s useful, in fact, for the whole novel to reflect a particular set of themes. Obviously, it’s easy to be heavy handed with that, but I think that it lends things a sense of coherence that they might otherwise lack. Subplots should be alternate approaches to those themes, while the majority of major characters should have a position on them to some degree. Think of it the way a university dissertation must have a central thesis.
In my forthcoming novel Court of Dreams, for example, I explore a lot of ideas around duty and doing the right thing. Very broad themes, obviously, but they helped me to bring together some quite disparate strands, and placed characters on a continuum so that I could be sure that they were all contributing as fully as they could.