Making the Audience Smile – How Important Is It?

My Hero Academia, Season 2 (Original Japanese Version) on ...

A little while ago this author introduced readers to a music video from an anime series she enjoys and has regularly referenced of late. Those who have read my most recent series of posts will remember the one she means: My Hero Academia*, better known in some circles by its Japanese title, Boku no Hero Academia. It is a series set in a universe where eighty percent of the population has some kind of superpower – typically referred to as a Quirk – thus making the profession of superhero a legitimate career choice.

The series first came to my attention through a cycle of posts by author Anthony Marchetta. He was kind enough to comment on the post when it first came out, but was a touch puzzled that I chose this particular song, “Hero Too,” as my favorite My Hero Academia number. The series has great music and many pleasant songs, so why did this one stand out to this author?

In the comments, I said it was because the song captures what I believe it means to be a hero. Thinking about My Hero Academia and writing recently put this in greater perspective for me, which is why I wish to discuss the series in more detail here and now. Specifically, I would like to make note of a repeating motif/theme in My Hero Academia which has enormous bearing not only on the series itself, but on the profession of storytelling in general.

Something MHA has continuously emphasized throughout its run is the importance of smiling. Now, anyone who watches Japanese anime frequently knows the characters tend to smile more often and in more exaggerated ways than their Western counterparts do. But this series takes smiling to a new level, in part by having characters insist on grinning, both for narrative and philosophical reasons.

Via flashback, the heroine who teaches the main character’s mentor states that she usually smiles during her rescues. She sums up her motive for doing so thus: “When you have to save someone, they’re usually in a scary situation. A true hero saves not only their lives, but also their hearts…. That’s what I believe. So no matter how scary things get, give ‘em a smile, as if to say: ‘I’m a-okay.’ The people in this world who can smile are always the strongest.”

Taking this to heart, her apprentice develops a trademark smile that, at first glance, can be quite unnerving for viewers. Watching the show consistently makes his grin less discomfiting, however. After a while it is not hard to see how this smile convinces the protagonist, Izuku Midoriya, that he wants to be “a smiling, cool, dependable hero.” Following on this theme, these lines from the song “Hero Too” encapsulate what it really means to be a hero for others:

“I have met so many heroes in my life

Gave me the strength and courage to survive

Gave me the power to smile every day

Now it’s my turn

To be the one

To make you smile!”

Growing up, the thing this author wanted most was to be a heroine. Watching popular cartoons such as X-Men and various iterations of Spider-Man may have kicked this impulse into gear, but much of the other media I consumed as a child and still watch as an adult had heroes who didn’t and don’t wear spandex tights. From John Wayne to Captain Kirk to Van Flyheight and beyond, this author wanted nothing more or less than to fight evil and protect people from it.

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She realized early on, though, that doing this physically wouldn’t be her best option. A career in medicine held no appeal; neither did police work. And the life of a soldier was not something she felt she could give due justice. Since this author never developed superpowers, spontaneously jumping into a physical altercation would cause more problems for everyone involved than if she just stayed out of it.

But there was one profession for which she had a natural inclination and a natural love: storytelling. After her parents, writers were the ones who taught this author to love heroism and desire to be a heroine someday. Given the fact that stories inspired her and made her want to do good things for others, perhaps by writing good fiction she could do the same for an audience (and get paid for it! :D).

This attitude, as she learned over time, was rather counter to the present day zeitgeist. Creating a piece of fiction was a way of “changing the world” and “making it a better place,” but the method used to achieve this left much to be desired. Where once storytelling meant delivering on a promise of seeing good triumph over evil, as she matured this author came to understand that the modern approach was to simply set the audience up and then betray them.

This could be accomplished by (a) shoving an unwanted, blatant message down their throat, (b) making the ideals the heroes fought for appear to be false principles, or (c) not creating heroes at all. Just make the lead actor in the tale less bad than the villain. That way there would be no need to bother with pesky things like heroism, courage, honor, love, beauty, truth, virtue, “et cetera, et cetera, and so forth!” (With thanks to the King of Siam*.)

Now you begin to see where My Hero Academia comes in to this post. Mr. Marchetta regularly and rightly posts on the Superversive aspects of the series over at the Castalia House blog (check them out, they are good!), but I believe he has yet to remark on its penchant for emphasizing the need to smile. It is such a small motif/theme in the overarching story, which is already chock-full of Superversive content, that overlooking it is all too easy. Until recently, this author herself did not consider it a particularly important point.

On reflection, however, she recognizes that it is an extremely significant aspect of the series. Looking out across fiction, it seems to me that writers have largely forgotten how to smile, if you will. Oh, we try to spark a laugh in the audience, especially when we are writing humorous pieces. In that respect we have not forgotten the intention of bringing a smile to someone’s face. The method has deteriorated with time, but the purpose largely remains intact.

It has nonetheless become much more difficult to find authors who specialize in leaving readers or viewers happier than they were when they began the story. Outside of those specifically adhering to the Superversive view, either in unison with the movement or just because they enjoy it, there are not too many authors striving to leave their audience smiling. They have forgotten to save their readers’ hearts, if you will.

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While some may flinch at this suggestion, the fact is that a good story can save people. We have seen this most prominently in Ms. Helen Fagin’s letter here, but the fact is that others can and have had their hearts saved by good tales told well. One of the items which got Dean Koontz through his abusive childhood was reading good stories. To paraphrase the author himself, reading fiction showed him that his circumstances were not universal, as there were good fathers out there. He just happened to have a terrible one. While a sad twist of fate, he did not let it dominate his childhood or, more importantly, his future.

For others, a good story can fend off depression better than medication or social interaction. Characters never have to cancel lunch plans or run out of town to take care of grandma after she fell and broke her hip, the way that real people do. They are also less likely to judge or pity the reader because his mom is on crack, his dad is taking bribes under the table, or he and his parents have had to go to bed without dinner again. When someone needs to talk, all they have to do is open a good book, and voila! Company that can both speak and listen to the reader arrives instantaneously.

The same goes for television, films, and video games, of course. But each of these things also begins as a series of well-written words. And after a point, they each lack the power of a good book, novelette, or short story. For millennia, the written word has been the best way for people to communicate with one another. Writing allows the thoughts of another person with a different perspective to enter the reader’s mind in a much more personal manner than they will when they are spoken aloud.

For today’s Vocational Vivication, I want to emphasize the point that it is important to be an author who smiles. This doesn’t mean you have to go around with a Joker-style grin on your face – that would be creepy! No, what I mean is that a writer should try to smile at the audience through their work. Like yawns and laughter, smiling is contagious; when one person grins in total, unaffected joy it spreads to everyone around them. The same principle applies to a well written tale, be it long or short. Any joy you feel in telling it will spread to the readers and give them something to look forward to the next time they pick up the book.

Every story I write will hopefully make someone smile and feel happy whenever they read it. Naturally, this does not mean that each piece this author creates is or will be a comedy. Despot Hold ‘Em is straight-up horror, but even that tale has a scene toward the end meant to make a reader grin. (If you know which scene I am talking about, you can mention it in the comments – after you have left a review of the anthology where it appears! 😉 ) The finale for Halcyon is specifically meant to elicit at least a microscopic smile. Same for The Long Dream, All the Lamps are Lit, and the soon-to-be released Death’s Shadow.

Writers in the Superversive movement – writers like Richard Paolinelli*, Anthony Marchetta*, Declan Finn*, L. Jagi Lamplighter*, John C. Wright*, David Breitenbeck*, Bokerah Brumley*, and too many others to name – have the same goal in mind. Even if they are telling horror stories, those pieces are meant to inspire, not tear a reader down and leave them weeping in the dark. In the end, we each want to be your heroes and heroines, readers. We want to take you to nice places, introduce you to great (and not-so-great) people, and show you that life really isn’t so bad – even when it is hard and painful.

Just like you, we have been through life’s trials. We know what it is like to be hurt, to be in between jobs or to deal with toxic people and bullies. And because we have been there, we know what it means when someone makes us smile. We want to help you when you are hurting, when you are down-in-the-dumps, when the world seems completely against you. We even want to be there when everything is sunshine and rainbows and you cannot see a single cloud in the sky.

That is the main job of an author; to “save people’s hearts.” At least, that is the opinion of this author and Mr. Kohei Horikoshi, the writer of My Hero Academia. We want to be heroes, and this is the best way we know how to fulfill that dream. We are not perfect or the best storytellers out there. But if we can make you smile, even a little, then all our writing will at least have done something good.

But in the final analysis, I think Kyoka Jiro (whose singing voice is provided by Chrissy Constaza) had it right. She certainly said it best! So I will let her have the last word on this piece:

Go out and make someone smile, future writers. It will be worth it, believe me!

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna and Uranus. Her newest piece will appear in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue, which is available for pre-order in e-book format. Order them today!

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer. If you want some more practical advice on writing, check out Adam Lane Smith’s Write Like a Beast. With plenty of guidelines for improving your productivity, he manages to sneak in some technical and editing advice as well. Pick it up at the Kindle store now!

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