Or: How to write more indulgently.
A lot of people talk about writing honestly. For the record, I'm for that. And I'll talk about it another time.
But I want to talk today about writing indulgently. Because as much as writing honestly can bring truly relatable and emotionally genuine content to your story, writing indulgently can bring, well, a little guilty pleasure. It can bring that addictive quality that keeps a reader coming back, or keeps a fan begging for the next installment. It can keep your story in the mind of your readers long after they've laid down for bed. It puts it in their dreams.
When you write indulgently, you give people that guilty pleasure they have to get more of.
So to clarify, I'm not technically describing that the way in which you write is personally indulgent for you. Fan-fiction would be an example of that. Where you write solely to scratch a personal itch because it feels good to write about shooting zombies through their bloody heads. Or because a good sex scene is tantalizing to imagine. Or you write about beating up your boss or cheating on your fat wife or being really cool all the time when normally your life is dull. That's between you and your keyboard.
I'm talking about writing a story the relishes in itself. A comedy that isn't afraid to "go there" for the joke. An action story where the explosions are extra explodey. A romance where the love is painfully palpable and oh so tragic. These are guilty pleasures for the reader, and to a certain extent they could be simplified as cheap thrills. Indeed, for some lazy writers (and also some very successful writers) these cheap thrills are the cornerstone of their career. Throw in more sex scenes! More curse words! More gunshots! We see this in mainstream cinema. We call it gratuitous. It's basically the dark side of what I'm describing.
But there are other less sleazy examples. Feel-good stories for one. Triumph of the human spirit stories. Survival stories. The truth is, all stories peddle in feelings. All stories peddle in artificial sensory experiences. Do you want yours, whatever they might be, to be so prickly that your reader still feels it after they've walked away? Then you have to take whatever theme you're going for, whatever mood, whatever emotion, whatever attitude you're hoping to convey, and you have to double down on it. You have to indulge in it just a little bit more than you probably think you should. And this is best done through your protagonist.
I'll use my own protagonist as an example. Lorna Lockheed is a typical rogue anti-hero kinda girl who likes to get her hands dirty and loves to fly. Everything that gets in the way of that for her is just the worst. On the other hand, no matter how bad things have gotten, once she's back in the air, the world is all blue skies and cotton clouds. So in my story I could simply tell you how much fun Lorna is having when she slips on her jetpack and flips the ignition. This would only be telling and it usually bores the reader (which is the exact opposite of the exhilaration I'm going for). I could instead show you the grin creeping across her flat lips despite the wind blasting up her nose. Showing is better than telling, right? And it should avoid pulling the reader out of the story, which is a start. But I want to suck the reader in. I want them to feel the mist on their tongue when they fly through the clouds. I want them to feel the aerodynamics tugging at their red leather jacket. I want them to have to wipe the condensation off their goggles and set down the book with an exhausted exhale and say, "Damn, that was a fun ride," as if they themselves were Lorna Lockheed, aviatrix extraordinaire!
So how do I do that? Well... I just did it. I indulged. I dwelt on it just a bit longer than I should have. Because when Lorna flies, she doesn't have her mind elsewhere. She's experiencing every heart pounding second of it. It's what she lives for. So it's what I write for. I have as much fun writing about flying as she has flying. I get elaborate and poetical and cover multiple senses and I linger on them all. I make the flying gratuitous and dirty and titillating like a pornographic sex scene. I give the reader enough time to feel everything I want them to feel. And when it's done, they want to fly again. They want to read the next story (at least, I like to think so!)
I'll give you some examples from more common films and shows. When you watch Sherlock (any of the different versions work the same, really) there is something indulgently fun about watching Sherlock Holmes piece together his puzzle. But the real reason it works is because the character, Sherlock himself, is addicted to it. And they're not afraid to dwell on that egotistical indulgence he has. There are countless scenes of him looking at and thinking about clues. And not just montages.
Wolf of Wall Street is another example. It's just rife with debauchery of so many kinds. You feel dirty and cheap and depraved and you also feel cocky and vain. These are the things Leonardo DiCaprio's character experiences, and you feel it too. Not just because of the acting, but because the director didn't hold back. He depicted all the depravity just a little longer than most films would've. When they swore, they swore more. When they sexed, they sexed more. When they ripped people off, they ripped 'em off good. And when he crashed at the end, he crashed hard. They went there. And if you're conservative the movie probably seemed gratuitous, but it is in fact an effective example of indulging in the premise, to make them feel what you want them to feel.
Speed piled on action set piece after action set piece, totally indulging in it's core premise, changed the action movie formula. Harry Potter gave us lots of classroom lectures on magic and left you wanting to go to magic school. MacGuyver always has to tinker with something to solve the problem, and you never look at paperclips the same way after. Can you guess what Scandal provides every episode? Drama! How about Lost? Perpetual mystery. House of Cards? Political scheme after political scheme.
Whatever their shtick is, they pile it on and don't look back. Not everyone will like everything, and the people that don't will say you overdid it. And maybe you did. Don't do that. On the other hand... DO EXACTLY THAT! Because the people that like it won't have any problems with it. They'll never shut up about it. They'll beg for more. How else do you think the romance novel industry stays afloat?
So whatever your shtick is, take every opportunity to dwell on it and write those scenes like they're pure chocolate cocaine sex money. Enjoy them. Show your characters enjoying them. Write them like there's nothing else in the world worth enjoying except this thing that you won't shut up about. And the reader might just enjoy it too.