As the current story is wrapping up I've become more and more aware of how much interesting conflict I didn't put in it.
I'm going to blame not having an overall plan. When I wrote the first scene I was aiming for 6-12,000 words. My only aim was to bring two casts together and have a little fun at the way they clashed. I had no overall story arc or goal.
Thing is, even as I came up with puzzles and opponents, the resulting story remains as exploratory as the process. Basically, my characters are searching for clues. There's none of the groundwork there even if I did come up with some great moral choice or interpersonal conflict or some nice paralleling of the internal and external. No-one is planted to be a lover or betrayer, to change loyalties at a key moment or discover hidden depths in themselves. No element is designed in to suddenly strike home at the protagonists.
And, really, I could have. If what I have now were a first draft, I'd take apart the materials I have and I'd find those conflicts. Lara has several potential arcs here. For instance, I could have planned to bring her into internal conflict by contrasting the guns-blazing cultural heritage-destroying Tomb Raider she is now versus the academically trained lover of discovery she had been. Have others bring up this conflict (perhaps with their own contrasting methods). Personalize it in the form of Amanda, who may have shared the innocent love of discovery but went even further into power-hungry looter. Bring the unnamed tomb in Bolivia where it all changed to a more central part of the narrative. Etc, Etc.
In a different direction, I could have brought the Tears of Horus even closer to the central narrative and tied it to internal themes; both to Lara's reluctant admission that she is willing to kill and destroy in order to complete her mission, and (even stronger) her entire lifestyle as a quest for freedom -- which clashes most horribly with the mind-controlling properties of the Horus Draught. This could have been a bigger moment and a much harder struggle as she pits her very vision of herself against mental bonds she can't fight.
Heck, even on a smaller scale; I sort of set up but never plotted to complete a legendary battle between her and Teal'c. And one could, with enough distance (and/or hindsight) to plan, bring this into an epic fight with the reader rooting for both sides equally.
Nor do my created characters, the Genesis group, really have a purpose in the narrative (they may have had one that I forgot in the long months that passed between each chapter). And there are so many possible conflicts and arcs and changes of heart and revelations of purpose that could have been wrought with them.
Fortunately, I am comfortable viewing the entire thing as a rambling monolog on history, archaeology, retro-technology, philosophy of science, and whatever else struck my fancy.
But when I think about it, my other two novel-length attempts (one abandoned, one completed but never published) also suffer from what I am thinking now is a conflation of the protagonist's problems with the writer's problems. In both, the protagonist is primarily investigative. Exploring, or simply reacting and trying to stay alive. In Shirato, at least, that was conscious and thematic; Mie spends most of the book trying to act according to internalized social mores and, when she finally breaks free of those social constraints she almost loses everything in a sort of madness.
This is a powerful mode for a reader, too, as it allows the reader to discover the characters, the universe, and the MacGuffin of the day in a natural manner. They share along with the protagonist an increasing understanding of what is going on, what the stakes are, and what might be done about it.
So the fault may not just be one of lack of planning. It might just be that I'm a guy who avoids interpersonal conflict (or really any situation that might give rise to strong emotion -- an unfortunate habit I got into in high school and never grew out of). So my protagonists tend to Mary Sue in at least this one way; they get a freedom to explore, to chose what to investigate and where to go next. They don't tend to find themselves in tangles (emotional or not) that have no clear way out.