Recapping the kdrama

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”

It was March last year that I learned a sobering fact:

Recaps trump reviews.

Two months into kdrama blogging, I had just posted my first feeble semblance of a recap (Women in the Sun: Episodes 1-2). Suddenly traffic jumped tenfold, from 25 hits a day to 250. Whereas my previous half-baked reviews had few to zero comments, that WITS recap received more than 20, a number that left me reeling. I crunched the change (in blog fortunes) nervously, tossed out a few more reviews in the interim, and then attempted another recap several weeks later, this time of Scale of Providence. The same thing happened: lots of hits and comments for the recap, hardly any interest in the reviews.

What is it about recaps that make them so popular with the kdrama community? Well, the answer will have to come from you, dear readers. For now, Thundie’s Prattle has gathered ten recappers and asked them to describe the recapping process. Is it as soul-sapping as some claim it to be? Is it a kind of lunacy? Is it something you do when drunk or is there method in the madness?

Dahee Fanel, girlfriday, javabeans, kaedejun, Michael, ockoala, red_pill, samsooki, Serendipity and sevenses, thank you for sharing how you write your wonderful and so-very-addictive recaps!

Dahee Fanel
I have a very stupid, inefficient way of recapping. I watch the episode first, because I like to watch drama episodes with zero interruption or interference (…most of the time). And then I rewatch the episode and take screencaps and write the recap at the same time. Or rather, I write down extensive (way too detailed) notes on what is going on in the episode. I input my own comments sometimes at the same time, but usually I do that only after writing down all the notes.

Thus the painstaking editing process begins, as I prune out less important scenes and think about the overall themes and ideas behind the episode. I then write my ending comments, and then I go back and edit those too, because I never know when to shut up, apparently. It’s after all this that I go through my screencaps and pick and choose which ones I’ll be including with my recap. This takes far too much time than it should, especially if the screencaps include a pretty male face.

After this, I go through my recap again and edit it once again, looking for things I might’ve missed earlier. Usually I’ll decide to omit a few screencaps I’d so painstakingly chosen in the process. And then, sleep-deprived, I send it in, and realize only when it’s published that I’ve made a ton of mistakes that all that editing somehow did not catch. Overall, the entire process usually takes about six or seven hours.

Recapping? It’s easy. I just hire a band of elves to write ’em up for me, and then I slap my name on, for posterity’s sake. The bad part is, they’re union. The good part is, it’s the Elven Guild of Writers, not the WGA, so I can pay in milk and cookies.

Um…so you want the boring answer? You asked for it. Basically, I watch, screencap, and write at the same time. It’s a lot of pause-screencap-write, pause-screencap-write. Once the body of the recap is written, I add comments and an intro. Then I format the pictures and slot them in. I do a final edit pass, and then presto! Instant recap!

The process can take anywhere from six to infinity hours (or longer, if I’m dragging my feet), and depends entirely on silly things like sleep, work, internet distractions, the whims of my appetite, and the tide.

About the recapping process: Uh, it’s nothing too exciting? I watch the episode, taking screencaps as I go and jotting down notes of things I’ll want to include — reactions to scenes, maybe, or dialogue that I’ll translate as I go.

When I’m done watching the episode, I’ll go though the collection of screencaps — usually way too many of them — and pick out the ones I want to incorporate. I’ll refer to the notes while writing the actual recap, insert photos, and publish!

I leave the door open to fiddle with the process sometimes, but on the whole I’ve done this so many times by now that most of my recaps naturally fall into the same range of word count and screencap count, based on an internal sense of rhythm.

To recap – I watch an episode twice. The first time, I’m watching it for my enjoyment, maybe making notes and comments as I watch the episode so that I can remember that excitement, frustration, or surprise. Then I usually give it a day before I go back to the episode and start recapping it scene by scene. At first I was overly detailed, but I’ve gotten the hang of it where I know when and where to summarize the episode, and when to go into details.

After writing the entire recap (intro and conclusion included) and editing it, I go and get the screencaps that correspond to what I wrote. Since I break the process up over three days, I don’t really know how long it takes me – but I’d estimate it takes about 5-10 hours total for one episode. I do this entire process twice if I have to recap two episodes per week – but thankfully it’s been rare!

Okay, first I would watch the two episodes either on the weekend they come out or more likely during weeknights in between any chores or familial obligations. Then, I think about the general theme and which scenes to include.

The vast majority of my time is spent in translating. Because I came to the U.S. when I was 12 years old, my Korean vocabulary is not all that great, so I use online Korean-English dictionary often. The biggest roadblock for me, though, occurs when either I can’t “hear” the word(s) or I can’t seem to spell it right. At this juncture, I ask my wife, who has better grasp of the Korean language, but if even she doesn’t know, then I call my parents.

Once I have all the words that I didn’t know previously understood, then the actual translation begins, which takes the longest because the process involves translating not just words but also has to take into consideration the context and the different ways of expressing the meaning because of the two different cultures. And then proofreading comes followed by screencap pics selection.

Generally, not counting watching the episodes the first time, I spend about 3 hours on Friday and about 5 hours each on Saturday and Sunday to finish the whole process. The first and second episodes took me less because I loved all the scenes, but the 3rd and 4th episodes felt like a chore because they were not very happy scenes, and thus they took me longer than usual.

Uhm, my recaps take about 4 hours to write from the moment I start writing to when I post. A total of 5 hours, tops, because I watch the episode raw first. See, the only recaps I’ve ever written are posted the same day the episode airs, hence I have a time crunch. I never do anything other than a straight recap, creativity is not exactly my bosom buddy.

So I watch the raws first thing in the morning, but I never write anything, just watching and getting a full first impression. Then when the C-subs come out about 3 hrs later, I watch again, and at this time I recap and watch simultaneously. I will watch about 2-3 mins, then pause and write a sentence or a paragraph. I rarely need to rewind and watch a scene again. It’s a completely linear process.

When I am done with the body of the recap, I will write a foreword, and then write my after thoughts. I then insert screencaps. Then I proof read once, and then presto, I post. I will then read my entire recap after its posted, and find the typos I missed in the first proof read, and fix those. I’ve asked folks if they want me to proof read multiple times or get a draft as soon as possible, and everyone wants to get the goods more than they want the goods to be perfect.

My reviews, on the other hand, take about 1 day to 1 week to write, depending on the complexity. Tamra took 1 week, a first impression review takes 1 entire day.

First, I watch the entire episode in its entirety, mostly making mental notes but foremost just enjoying the episode. Then I watch it a second time, this time jotting down the most important plot points/conversations/things I want to comment on. A lot of it is just notes and direct translations. While doing this, I also divide sections generally by adding screencap numbers to create a basic skeleton and get an idea of how many screencaps I will need.

Next I go through my notes and make them into actual cohesive sentences and paragraphs. This is when a lot of notes get axed and I decide what’s important to include and what’s not. I go through the recap once more to streamline it and organize the screencap numbers one more time. Finally, I watch the episode a third time to screencap – and since I already have a general idea of what images I want from the first two watches, I mostly skip through to find what I want.

All in all, the whole process took me anywhere from 10 to 12 hours total. I’m a total noob so I’m probably on the slower side.

I watch the episode, making a mental (or sometimes written) note of my impressions. During this first watch, unless I have already decided on a “straight”, tell-it-like-it-is angle, I also start thinking about whether I can take a creative angle and what is my personal take on it (e.g., Recap from different points of view? Snarky or affectionately mocking recap? Did it affect me personally or specially? Can I frame it in a different, fun way, e.g., sageuk as modern campus high-jinks? Recap in verse?).

I mull. I start writing. I ponder some more. Usually, I also re-watch at the same time, because I would want to get the dialogue right. If I’m quite sure of the creative direction I’m taking and I feel confident that there will be no major editing or changing by me at the end, I may start taking screen caps at this stage. Otherwise, if I’m still not confident about the final shape of the writing, I save the screen cap-taking for when I have written a full first draft – because I want to match the images to my words. As I screen cap, I also edit the words, and I start posting drafts to the blog site so that I can read the words and see the pictures as they will appear.

When I’m done and all the words and screen caps are in, I proof-read. And then I proof-read again. And again. And sometimes I will incubate the draft overnight and proof-read again the next day with fresh eyes, in case fresh inspiration comes to me. By the end of the process I will have watched the episode at least 3 times. If I didn’t have a job or a family, basically if I had no life of my own, I reckon an average recap would take me a full day to write. As it is, I do have a full-time job etc., so in reality a recap takes me a few days and often even a week to complete. Yes, it is a labour of love (emphasis on “labour”).

I watch the episode, taking specific note of major events (there’s usually 3 or so per episode). If I’m working on a parody, I will also jot down sarcastic dialogue for later. This takes about the length of the episode. Parodycaps usually take more pictures. I don’t know why, it just works better.

Then I pop the episode through the VLC screencapping program, and choose the screencaps I want, with a focus on the major turning points I noted down. While choosing, I’ll write down the corresponding scenes in the episode. This takes 90-120 minutes, depending on how well a drama is shot.

If I have the internet on hand, I upload the screencaps (renaming is a paaaaaaaaain) to photobucket and encode the screencaps in the actual blog post. After that, I usually take a break – it’s kind of exhausting, actually. Before publishing, I’ll edit for small mistakes or (ahem) profanity, as well as double checking that the right screencaps are being used.

I think the most time-consuming part is actually coding, because it’s not really creative or productive, just repetitive work.

And, of course, if I like the drama immensely, the process doesn’t feel as soul-rendingly boring.

My recapping process is layered and laborious. It is also incredibly stupid and time-consuming because it’s akin to a bricklayer who lays a row of bricks, paints them, waits for the paint to dry, and then repeats the entire process with a fresh row of bricks. Shouldn’t he finish the whole wall, no, wait, all the walls, before he starts painting?

I begin by watching the episode. Just pure watching, no notes, no screencapping. Then I wait a day before I screencap. While waiting, I mull over the episode and my feelings toward it, trying to remember key scenes and how I should recap them. A harebrained idea will inevitably drop itself into my head and I spend the rest of the day trying to kill the idea, usually without success.

Screencapping (which I do the next day) takes 3-4 hours because I screencap every scene (and take 30 shots of the same Yoo Ah-in expression). The reason is because I don’t take notes and thus rely on the screencaps to help me remember who said/did what and when. When I’m done, I pick my main image (and it’s usually the one that best expresses Harebrained-Idea-That-Won’t-Die). I’m now ready to create my draft and to cobble together the first paragraph.

I’m the OC (obsessive-compulsive) kind of writer who can’t write a second paragraph until she has edited the first one to death. Also, every 2-3 paragraphs I will insert screencaps. I then read everything I have written (and edited to death) thus far to make sure it is coherent and cohesive before I start writing the next paragraph. When the final sentence is done, I insert the last screencap, hit Publish, and promptly keel over. The whole recapping process takes about 15 hours over three days.

For me, recapping is about telling a story – mostly, it’s telling a story that’s already being told by someone else – but nevertheless, telling a story in a way that makes sense, gives perspective and enriches the people that are reading it. Otherwise, a recap serves no purpose, yeah?

Now, there are two distinctly different kinds of recaps. Contemporaneous and reflective. Contemporaneous is by far the harder of the two, and very few can do it well (e.g., JB and GF). Contemporaneous requires not only superlative writing ability, but a professional writer’s eye/mind – you have to see the story and its constituent elements literally as they are happening otherwise the recap is just a disjunctive play-by-play. Oh, and fluency in the native language / culture is a necessity. The less sexy, dumpy and bespectacled cousin of Contemporaneous is Reflective. This is the kind I write.

Whether one or the other though, they are all part of the same thing though. Story-telling goes way back, but the principles have remained the same. People don’t have to agree with what you say, but they should be enriched by what you write – humor, knowledge, heart-warming, heart-wrenching, happiness.

A recap starts out with an episode watch, followed by a period of time (an hour? a day? years?) of fallow time until I think of what it is that I feel, if anything. If I don’t feel anything, then writing will be difficult and artificial. If I have a lot of feelings, then I’ll sort them out and start writing. And being of dual cultures (Korean and American), I cherry-pick things that stand out as something that can fill in cultural gaps. And being a guy in a k-dramaland overrun by gals, sometimes I try to fill in gender gaps as well. Bora lives, damnit!

I also do a lot of research as I write – linguistic, historical, cultural. So many times, you see a scene in a drama and you just wonder, “why?” There’s usually a reason beyond the arbitrary, and those elements can really make a recap be a nice addition to the k-drama watching experience.

All in all, it probably takes me 6-12 hours to do a single recap, with equal time spent for writing-researching, screen capping, and editing.


41 thoughts on “Recapping the kdrama

  1. Such a late comment but I have to say how much I respect and admire you guys for all the work you put into recapping and reviewing these dramas for us! You guys are incredibly sweet for doing all this. I almost want to say, ‘take it easy, having you guys be well-rested is the most important”, but I am a bit too greedy with drama recaps for that 🙂
    Anyhoo, thank you for your hard work and providing us with wonderful recaps

  2. Wow, I TOTALLY wish I had read this earlier…

    …turns out my method of writing the recap first and then watching the episode…. makes editing the recap that much harder. :O

    • Thank you so much for sharing your method, samsooki! I was disappointed when you couldn’t join us for the original post because of your kdrama hiatus. So happy to have you back! 😀

  3. I just chanced upon this entry via dramabeans… And, reading it in its entirety actually brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for all your hard work, sweat and tears to bring all these awesome drama recaps to us readers. I have nothing but immense respect and gratitude to all the abovementioned recappers, and those others out there. 정말 감사합니다! 🙂

  4. And to think I was first drawn in by the title picture. That’s what I call sad.

    Being a newbie at this recapping business, I dare say, I thought I was ze stoopid because the process of writing a recap seemed so difficult and time consuming to me, when everyone else made it look so easy. I always had a lot of respect and gratitude for the people doing this because it really does enrich one’s viewing experience, but after writing my first recap, my respect and gratitude was multiplied times 100.

    On another note, (not)glad to know it doesn’t ever get easier:P

    just found out how you-all-fabulous-re-storytelling do while i watch raw in daze coz i don’t understand hangul at all
    i worship all of you…..
    do accept umble-bowing from your-forever-kdrama-slaves

  6. Pingback: K-drama: On Recapping | dramababble

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