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Write Plot Synopses for Trading Cards? Why Not, How Hard Could It Be?

Write Plot Synopses for Trading Cards? Why Not, How Hard Could It Be?

by Jackie & Rob Emery

Think of your favourite episode of Blakes 7. The one you know better than any other, the one you've watched so many times you can recite the dialogue by heart.

Now summarise it in 150-175 words. No fewer than 150, no more than 175, and include all the major plot points and characters. Tricky, isn't it?

Then repeat the above exercise for all fifty-two episodes, including your least favourite, the one you hoped you would never have to watch again. And do it to such a tight deadline that the concept of spare time becomes a distant memory, as every moment not spent at your day job is given over to writing B7 synopses. For two months, this was our life.

It all began in April 2013, when Horizon received an email from Steve at Unstoppable Cards. Having introduced himself and explained the company's plan to produce Blake's 7 trading cards, he said: In the initial set we are covering Seasons 1 and 2 and need some nice short synopses of the episodes to put on the back of the cards. Now I can get these from Wikipedia and the like, but it's not the same as getting someone who loves the series to write them...

Supreme Commander Diane promptly got in touch with us, and we just as promptly agreed to write them. Sure, we'll do it; it wouldn't be the first time Rob wrote the episode synopses for the video sleeves, for the DVDs and the website. We both contributed to the reissue of the B7 Programme Guide. It shouldn't be hard to do it again, right? Wrong!

Having made contact with Steve, we received our instructions on 1st May. The specifications were that the synopses should be delivered as Word files of between 150175 words. Each synopsis would be split over two cards, but we needn't worry about that as they would decide where the break would be. The deadline for us to deliver the first two series was: as soon as possible.

Initially, we reverted to the previous versions we'd written, but these all proved to be too short. Furthermore, they weren't full synopses but teasers, designed to get people interested in watching the episodes, rather than providing details of what happens in each one. Experimenting with padding these out to the required word count yielded unsatisfactory results, and we quickly realised that the only way was to write each synopsis from scratch.

The first few episodes proceeded smoothly. I'd recently rewatched The Way Back through to Time Squad, the story-lines were straightforward (thanks, Terry!) and the word count wasn't hard to achieve. Mission to Destiny necessitated further correspondence with Steve were we allowed to include spoilers in these synopses? Could we reveal the name of the murderer? After a brief discussion, it was decided that as it was B7 fans who would be buying the cards, they would be familiar with happened in each episode. Spoilers included, we carried on...

Duel was the first episode that presented a real challenge. There was so much exposition! The entire word count and more could have been used up just explaining Sinofar and Giroc and the history of their planet, not to mention what the Liberator was doing there, the stand-off with Travis, the slowing down of time and that's before we even get to duel itself. After tying ourselves in knots for a while, and consulting the Supreme Commander, we came to the realisation that not everything could be included in a synopsis. It was the first of several encounters with almost unexplainable story-lines.

However, after Duel, the rest of Series A settled down and a routine became established. I would write a fully detailed synopsis, which would come in at around 500 words. I would then whittle it down to a version that was more or less to length, and pass to Rob for his editorial input. Discussions would ensue along the lines of needing to add more detail, despite having reached the upper limit of the word count.

Thus our evenings were spent in a kind of word Tetris as we passed each synopsis back and forth between us until we were both satisfied. Each episode took about a day to complete - I would work on it from 6.00 8.00am before going to work, review it at lunch time and pass to Rob in the evening. He would review and edit during the evening, while I commenced work on the next one. Ten days after starting work on the synopses, we were proudly able to send the complete Series A to Steve on 11th May. He replied that they were great, and could he please have the next season as soon as possible?

So without pausing for breath, we commenced work on Season B. Redemption was straightforward enough, but Shadow proved to be a major challenge. The plots, the sub-plots, the different planets, all the characters... There was no way we could fit everything into 175 words, and to our great regret we had to omit Vila's trip to Space City and all mention of Bek and Hanna. The bare bones of the episode came in at 176 words; we breathed a sigh of relief and carried on...

Doing these synopses turned out to be an extraordinary exercise in writing discipline, where every word was counted and every word had to count. We ended up feeling resentful of plots that needed too much explanation, grumbling that IMIPAK alone used up six precious words just spelling out the acronym!

Another ten days of intense work, and Season B was delivered to Steve on 20th May. Phew! we thought, We can take a break now - Series C and D aren't due for release until next year.

Wrong again! Steve's next email asked for them as soon as possible, because, he said, We do need to crack on with the artwork for the second set.

With the first set of synopses, we hadn't needed to rewatch all the episodes. I'd watched several anyway, in tandem with the Horizon Rewatches, and we knew the other episodes well enough to summarise, with occasional dips into the Programme Guide. However, Series C and D were a whole different ballgame. Many years had passed since I'd last seen most of the episodes, and Rob hadn't watched them since working on the DVDs. So the only way to write accurate synopses was by watching them all again.

This then became the pattern of our days:
Every evening I would watch an episode, summarising it in bullet points as it went along. The 6.00-8.00am morning slot was given over to turning bullet points into a long synopsis and the lunch break to condensing it to more or less the required word count. After work I'd pass this to Rob for editing, while I watched the next episode.

I actually found myself enjoying this enforced rewatch. Some episodes were a delight to rediscover (Rumours, City), others were even worse than I remembered (Volcano, Moloch). Even the much-maligned Series D had much to enjoy; Power was unexpectedly fun, Traitor was very good indeed, Animals every bit as bad as I recalled, though somewhat redeemed by Og (one of Rob's favourite characters). Despite the pressure of the ASAP deadline and regular emails from Steve asking when the synopses would be ready, we were allowed time to do a thorough job, submitting the synopses only once we were happy with them. And Steve's emails were always good-natured, supportive and very appreciative.

With the synopses for Season C and D delivered in June, Rob and I then found ourselves in the position of consultants.

Steve sent us prototypes for the first set of cards for proof-checking to make sure, as he put it, that there weren't any major boo-boos. Oh, but there were! Some wrong images had been used - for example, a picture of Servalan in Pressure Point was used on one of the episode cards for Hostage. There were typos, such as Altas misspelled as Atlas, and the two halves of the synopsis for Star One had been swapped round, changing the order of the story. We noted also that there wasn't a single picture of Gan, and that some of the captions were repetitious (Captured was used three times and Trapped twice), some were inaccurate (eg the picture of Avon with the computer in Space Fall had been captioned Repairs). Some of the initial choices of images from the episodes seemed a bit random, and Steve explained that B7 Media didn't have enough high quality images for each and every episode, and they had to supplement these with frame grabs which don't reproduce so well in print. He was balancing the quality of the frame grabs against interesting images.

To help things along, he sent us contact sheets with thumbnails of the transparencies they'd received from B7 Media. Most were publicity shots and weren't from actual episodes, hence Steve's difficulty in identifying which episodes were represented. Any help appreciated, he said. We drew up a table that explained which character(s) appeared in each picture, and based on their costumes, which episode each publicity picture related to.

Identifying pictures, offering advice on the captions and proof-reading all the cards kept us busy during July and August... and then everything was finished, and suddenly we didn't know what to do with all the spare time we seemed to have!

So that brings us to the day when a package from Unstoppable Cards arrived on our doorstep. We opened it with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Excitement, for obvious reasons, but trepidation, because after submitting our final corrections and suggestions, we were unsure whether they had been implemented. Had the typos been fixed? Were the correct pictures with the right episodes? We need not have worried. All the corrections were in place and most of our suggestions had been accepted including now having no fewer than three pictures of Gan!

In our box, we received two complete sets of the base cards, 3 foil cards, 2 autograph cards and a printer plate, which are all lovely collectors' items. But for us, there really was no feeling like turning over Card No.1 and seeing our names on the back; the pride at the end result of this labour of love, and being able to say to each other: "We did it!"

Pictures: 'Bounty' work-in-progress by Jackie Emery. Final versions copyright Unstoppable Cards

Box Sets 1 and 2 of Blake's 7 Trading Cards are available from Unstoppable Cards here: Unstoppable Cards


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