The Dreaded Recap

Recapitulation is an inevitability of any sort of part-by-part storytelling medium, particularly as the separation between the installments increases. Giving the players a refresher between sessions, letting readers of a series know what they might have missed and/or reminding them what happened last time, the occasional catch-up for long-running webcomics—without a recap, the audience might end up anywhere from disoriented to completely lost. But not all recaps are alike, and different approaches will get you different results, both good and bad.

One option is the standard blow-by-blow recap of the whole thing—and then they did this, and then they did that, then ran into this character and hijinks ensued, and so on. On the plus side, it makes sure that you get all the important details across (or, if you’re trying to obfuscate which details are important, gives you a chance to bury them in a heap of less important details). On the other hand, it takes up a lot of time, or in written works word or pagecount, and particularly for audiences who still have the incident fresh in their minds, it can be downright boring.

Then there’s the recap in voice—take one of the characters, and recap what happened from her viewpoint. You’re probably going to miss a lot of details, since an in voice recap is going to focus on what the character was aware of and feels is important, but that can be useful—and it’s a lot easier to keep people amused, particularly if you’re using a character with a strong voice, an accessible sense of humor, or both.

For gamers in particular, there’s always letting someone else handle the recap—heck, Mouse Guard treats that as a part of the game mechanics. On the one hand, this saves you the trouble of doing the recap yourself, meaning that you can focus on things like getting ready; on the other hand, it presupposes that someone wants to recap, and that they can remember what happened—or, if you’ve got a group full of showoffs, that you can find an equitable way to determine whose turn it is.

And, of course, there’s just not recapping at all, or recapping only in response to questions. This gets you straight into the action, but if people have forgotten what happened last time, it might leave them a bit lost—though the latter is what the questions are for. (For writers, questions from an editor or a trusted reader will likely serve, particularly if the trusted reader doesn’t have a strong narrative memory.)

People are going to need a refresher to know what’s going on. Do you know how you’re going to do it?


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  1. Impractical Applications: A Recap Sampler | Exchange of Realities

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