The best stories create transcendent emotional experiences for us as readers (or viewers). But how do they do it? And how can you craft stories that create that magical experience for your readers?
To find out, I selected a powerful scene to study, the kind that gives me chills. Then, I invited fellow editor Kim Kessler to the podcast to break it down with me.
The Magic of Making Your Readers Feel
This episode is actually part three of a series. And the whole series started out with a question:
How do you make your readers feel?
How do you make readers laugh? Cry? Swoon? Shake with fear? Worry for your characters? Pause in awe? Grieve? Swell with triumph?
To answer that question, I turned to a scene that makes me feel. It’s from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (itself a masterpiece of a movie), and it’s the moment when Miles Morales, brand-new to his spidey powers, proves he’s truly a heroic Spider-Man by taking a leap of faith off a skyscraper.
I watched that scene a dozen times, and I shared what I found in this episode / article. That’s all about how that specific scene creates a feeling of triumph.
Then, I watched the scene a dozen more times, and I articulated the process I use with my clients to create scenes just as powerful. I shared that process in this episode / article. There, you’ll find an actionable three-step formula to create emotion in your stories.
But that still wasn’t enough. After all, I’d now watched that scene two dozen times, and I had a lot more to say about it.
So I turned to my editor colleague Kim Kessler, who loves this movie as much as I do. And I invited her to grab a mic and join me for an intensely detailed breakdown of how exactly this scene creates story magic.
Consider this the uncut (or much, much less cut) behind-the-scenes version of those previous two episodes. We had a blast breaking down every nuance of this scene, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Watch the Scene
Before you dive into the episode, be sure to watch the scene we’re discussing.
You don’t need to have seen the whole movie (although if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?). But you’ll follow our discussion more easily if you’ve seen what we’re referencing:
Jump to Key Moments
This episode is long. Put a couple of story nerds in a room (or on some mics) together, and we can talk for hours.
Right now, I don’t have transcripts for long-form conversations on the podcast. That’s something I’m hoping to include in the future. But in the meantime, I hope you enjoy listening to Kim and me break down this scene in minute detail.
It’s worth listening to the whole conversation. There’s storytelling wisdom all the way through.
But if you’d like to jump straight to some key moments, check out these time stamps:
- [7:21] Where this scene fits in the story as a whole.
- [9:07] The external and internal stakes of the movie.
- [12:09] Why Miles has three mentors, plus the roles they play in the story and his life.
- [15:27] The sequence of events leading up to the leap of faith scene, and where we think the leap of faith scene actually begins and ends (we had different takes on this!).
- [26:34] How the “all is lost” moment re-establishes the stakes of the entire movie, and why that’s critical for this scene to have an emotional impact on us viewers.
- [43:37] Why the leap of faith scene isn’t presented linearly. Instead, there’s a montage of Miles preparing for his leap of faith interspersed with dramatic images of him climbing to the top of a skyscraper. This creates narrative drive, momentum to build our intrigue and carry us forward in the story.
- [51:27] Three types of narrative drive: suspense, mystery, and dramatic irony.
- [50:20] The internal and external value shifts in the leap of faith scene (and why the external value shift was weirdly difficult for me to pinpoint!).
- [1:09:57] Where we mark the inciting incident, progressive complications, turning point, crisis, climax, and resolution, plus where we mark the start and end of the scene (we came up with different answers!).
- [1:22:40] How every single element in the moments when Miles leaps, from the shots in the scene to the lines of dialogue to the colors and even the frame rate, creates enormous contrast between the beginning value and the ending value of the scene, and how that creates an emotional experience in us as viewers.
- [1:32:31] Tips for writers to create an emotional experience as powerful as this scene of Spider-Man.
Links Mentioned in the Episode
Catch up on the previous episodes in this Spider-Man series:
- Ep. 32: How Spider-Man (And All Great Stories) Makes Us Laugh, Cry, and Feel the Feels
- Ep. 33: The 3-Step Formula to Evoke Emotion and Make Your Readers Feel
Follow editor Kim Kessler (and join her free monthly story workshop!):