Satisfactory Sub-plots, Now With Pictures

This post, by Howard Tayler, originally appeared on Inkpunks on 3/14/12.

Howard Tayler is the writer and illustrator behind Schlock Mercenary, the Hugo-nominated science fiction comic strip. Howard is also featured on the Parsec award-winning “Writing Excuses” podcast, a weekly ‘cast for genre-fiction writers. Howard’s artwork is featured in XDM X-Treme Dungeon Mastery, a role-playing supplement by Tracy and Curtis Hickman, as well as in the board game “Schlock Mercenary: Capital Offensive” coming in May 2012 from Living World Games.

His most recently published work is Schlock Mercenary: Emperor Pius Dei. He lives in Orem, Utah with his wife Sandra and their four children.

“Satisfactory Sub-plots.” That might seem like a nice, narrow topic, but I think it’s still too big. If I’ve learned anything from three years of fifteen minute podcasts, it’s that a tight focus is king. So I’m going to talk about character sub-plots, which are probably the most satisfying kind anyway.

We’re going to do this with pictures. Hopefully that means that what would otherwise be a giant column of tl;dr will keep your attention all the way to the end. Also, this will allow me to talk to you about why I do things they way I do them while simultaneously showing you exactly what I did.

First, a helpful dichotomy: a sub-plot either ends with the character achieving their objective, or failing to achieve their objective. This is particularly useful when you want to create something gritty that has a happy ending. Your main plot can be resolved to everyone’s triumphant satisfaction, while one or more sub-plots end in disaster. This juxtaposition (success in the main plot :: failure in a sub-plot) can also let you create a moment of true heroic sacrifice in which one or more characters give up achieving their own goal in order to save the day.

Let’s look at what I did while I talk about why I did it. The examples are going to come from Longshoreman of the Apocalypse (one of 2010′s losers for the Best Graphic Story Hugo Award), and will feature two characters: Aardman and Para Ventura. I’ll try to do this with as little back-story as possible, without contaminating the sub-plot with a discussion of the big plot. Why? Because if the sub-plot can tell a story without the big plot, it’s probably a solid story.

We’ll begin with introductions. Both of these characters enlisted with the company towards the beginning of the book. Here’s Aardy’s first appearance.

Read the rest of the post (which includes illustrative — no pun intended — comic strips!) on Inkpunks.

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