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.