Awkward scenes in storytelling are crucial for adding depth, tension, and layers of complexity.
This is how to write awkward scenes in your story:
Write an awkward scene by focusing on pacing, body language, inner monologue, and environmental details. Pacing sets the tempo, letting awkwardness linger. Use body language like fidgeting or avoiding eye contact to show tension. Inner monologue reveals unspoken thoughts, adding depth.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write awkward scenes.
What Is an Awkward Scene in a Story?
An awkward scene is a part of the narrative where characters experience discomfort, embarrassment, or social tension.
These scenes often lead to moments of vulnerability or transformation for the characters involved.
Awkward scenes are necessary because they make your characters more relatable and the story more compelling.
For example, imagine a high-stakes job interview where the applicant fumbles their words.
It’s a perfect set-up for later redemption or a lesson learned.
Why Awkward Scenes Are Important
Awkward scenes serve multiple purposes in storytelling.
They act as catalysts for:
- Character development
- Plot progression
For instance, a botched marriage proposal can be the catalyst for a break-up that leads to personal growth for both parties involved.
Awkward scenes are also crucial for showing flaws and vulnerabilities in characters.
This makes them more relatable to readers.
Without these scenes, your story may feel flat and one-dimensional.
10 Types of Awkward Scenes
There are at least 10 types of awkward scenes. The more you know, the more you can write.
Types of awkward scenes:
- Romantic misfires
- Uncomfortable family gatherings
- Social faux pas
- Humiliating public moments
- Awkward workplace interactions
- Difficult conversations
- Cultural gaffes
- Ill-timed confessions
- Failed attempts at heroism
Romantic misfires are scenes where love interests embarrass themselves or misunderstand each other.
Think of a character professing love only to realize the feelings aren’t mutual.
These scenes often involve cringe-worthy moments but can also set the stage for future relationship developments.
Uncomfortable Family Gatherings
Family get-togethers offer a plethora of awkward moments.
From arguing politics at the dinner table to invasive questions about one’s personal life, these scenes allow characters to interact in complex ways.
They can serve as a microcosm of larger family dynamics and contribute to the overall tension in the story.
Social Faux Pas
Whether it’s mistakenly insulting someone or unintentionally making a sensitive comment, social faux pas scenes make readers wince in sympathy.
These scenes often reveal a character’s naivety or lack of awareness.
They provide room for growth or trigger a chain of events that move the plot forward.
Humiliating Public Moments
Being humiliated in public offers a high level of awkward tension.
Examples include flubbing a public speech or tripping on stage.
These moments make the audience empathize with the character’s embarrassment while driving home the gravity of the situation.
Awkward Workplace Interactions
Think about embarrassing yourself in a meeting or having a conversation with a coworker about personal boundaries.
The workplace is ripe for awkward scenes.
These moments can impact professional relationships and can introduce subplots involving work dynamics.
These are scenes where characters must discuss something uncomfortable.
For example, break-ups, firings, or confronting someone about a lie.
Difficult conversations serve to resolve tension or create new conflicts, making them essential for plot progression.
Misunderstandings and Confusions
Here, characters misunderstand each other’s words or actions, leading to uncomfortable scenarios.
These can be funny or tragic, depending on the context.
But they always contribute to the story’s tension and character development.
When a character is unfamiliar with the customs or norms of a certain group, awkward moments are bound to occur.
These scenes can be educational for both the character and the reader.
Also, they highlight the importance of cultural sensitivity.
Ill-timed revelations involve the spilling of secrets or unveiling of critical information at the worst possible moment.
These awkward scenes can be dramatic turning points in the narrative.
Failed Attempts at Heroism
Sometimes, characters try to be heroic and utterly fail, creating awkwardness.
Whether it’s attempting to stand up to a bully and stumbling over words or trying to save the day and make things worse, these scenes are both humbling and engaging.
11 Creative Tips for Mastering Awkward Scenes
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how to write awkward scenes.
1. Set the Mood with the Stage
Before diving into the awkwardness, it’s crucial to establish the setting and context for the scene.
This helps the reader understand what makes the situation awkward and why it’s significant for the characters involved.
For example, imagine writing a scene where a character confronts their cheating partner.
Setting the scene at a romantic, candlelit dinner adds a layer of irony and awkwardness, making the confrontation even more poignant.
2. The Tug-of-War of Desires
Understanding the motivations of each character in the scene is essential for creating tension.
When characters have conflicting desires or goals, the awkwardness naturally intensifies.
For instance, if one character is trying to break up while the other is planning to propose, the resulting scene would be excruciatingly awkward due to the clash of intentions.
3. Show It, Don’t Spill It
Instead of stating the awkwardness outright, use dialogue and body language to convey it.
Characters can stammer, avoid eye contact, or engage in nervous habits like drumming their fingers.
For example, instead of saying, “John felt awkward when he saw Emily,” you could write, “John’s eyes darted to the floor as Emily walked in, his fingers nervously tapping on his glass.”
4. The Tightrope of Timing
The pacing of your awkward scene can make or break its impact.
If the awkward moments unfold too quickly, the tension deflates.
If they drag on too long, the scene can become tedious. Imagine a character fumbling through a wedding proposal.
If it happens in seconds, it loses its weight, but if it stretches for pages, it becomes agonizing for the reader.
5. The Comedy-Gravity Scale
Awkward scenes often walk the fine line between humor and seriousness.
Using humor can lighten the mood and make the scene more enjoyable, but going too far can deflate its emotional impact.
A character trying to navigate a foreign culture’s dining etiquette might lead to funny moments.
However, the scene should also respect the gravity of cultural differences.
6. Real Talk with Twists
Awkward scenes thrive on realistic dialogue that includes miscommunication, stammering, and long, uncomfortable silences.
For example, a character is confessing their feelings to a friend who doesn’t reciprocate.
The dialogue might be filled with pauses and half-finished sentences that make the reader squirm.
7. Raise the Awkwardness Quotient
The stakes should be high enough to make the awkward situation matter to the characters.
And, by extension, to the reader.
If the character fails to impress during a job interview, the stakes could be their dream job or financial stability.
Make every awkward moment feel monumental.
8. Awkward POV
Consider narrating the scene from the perspective that best heightens the awkwardness.
Sometimes an observer or third-party perspective can make the situation feel even more uncomfortable.
For instance, a failed public marriage proposal might feel more awkward when described from the viewpoint of a spectator who can see both parties’ reactions.
9. Foreshadow with a Dash of Spice
Foreshadowing can prime your audience for an awkward scene, making the eventual payoff even more satisfying.
If you drop subtle hints that a character is planning to propose, the actual moment becomes cringe-worthy.
Because the audience is anticipating it, especially if they suspect it might go wrong.
10. The Ripple Effect
After the awkward moment has occurred, don’t rush past it.
Show the immediate consequences and how the characters deal with them.
For example, after a failed confession of love, you could show the character questioning their self-worth or rethinking their approach to relationships.
11. The Art of the Awkward Revision
Writing awkward scenes can be, well, awkward.
Don’t hesitate to go through multiple drafts to fine-tune the dialogue, pacing, and tension.
Even seasoned writers rarely get it perfect on the first try.
Each revision brings you closer to capturing that elusive awkward magic.
The consistent element in awkward scenes is discomfort. Here’s a video about how to create it:
How to Write an Awkward Silence Scene
Writing an awkward silence scene involves more than merely stating, “An awkward silence filled the room.”
While that may work in some instances, using it as a go-to device will not captivate your readers.
Instead, focus on utilizing a range of storytelling elements like pacing, body language, internal monologue, and environmental detail.
This will help you construct a palpable tension that readers can almost “hear.”
Pacing and Structure: The Slow Burn
An awkward silence is often more about what isn’t said than what is.
The pacing and structure of your scene should reflect the awkward emotion and situation.
Short, clipped sentences can create a sense of immediacy, while longer sentences filled with descriptions can slow the pace, letting the awkwardness settle like a dense fog.
Don’t rush through the silence.
Let it linger on the page, echoing in the minds of your readers.
For example, you could write: “John glanced at Sarah, who was busy studying her coffee cup. Time seemed to crawl. Each tick of the clock, usually unnoticeable, now resonated like a drumbeat in a quiet room.”
Body Language: The Silent Dialogue
When words fail, body language speaks volumes.
Characters might fidget, avoid eye contact, or engage in nervous habits.
Use these small actions to illustrate the tension in the room, making it almost palpable.
Every shrug, every downcast eye, and every clenched fist becomes a part of the silent dialogue that adds depth to the scene.
Example: “Sarah finally looked up, meeting John’s eyes for just a moment before quickly looking away. John adjusted his tie, a habit he only had when nervous, and cleared his throat, filling the silence with a sound that felt disproportionately loud.”
Inner Monologue: The Unspoken Words
In the absence of dialogue, the inner thoughts of a character can become the narrative focus.
This internal monologue can offer readers insights into the character’s emotions, concerns, or regrets, which intensify the awkwardness.
Be careful not to overdo it.
Sometimes, less is more when it comes to inner thoughts during an awkward silence.
Example: “Why did I say that? John thought, his mind racing. He looked at Sarah, hoping for some sign of what she was thinking, but her expression was unreadable.”
Environmental Details: Amplifying Silence with Surroundings
The environment around your characters can serve to heighten the awkward silence.
Maybe there’s the distant clatter of dishes in a restaurant, or perhaps the muffled laughter of people in another room.
These sounds serve as a stark contrast to the characters’ silence, amplifying the awkwardness.
Example: “Outside the window, life carried on. Cars honked, people laughed, and a street musician played a cheerful tune. All of it seemed worlds away from the bubble of tension that enclosed John and Sarah.”
Crafting an Awkward Scene: A Screenwriting Example
One of the best ways to truly understand how to write an awkward scene is to see one in action.
Below is a short example that incorporates many of the tips mentioned earlier.
This scene features a job interview where the applicant, Sarah, misunderstands the interviewer’s questions, leading to a series of awkward moments.
Setting: A clean, minimalist office with large windows that flood the room with sunlight. Sarah sits across a glass desk from Mr. Johnson, the hiring manager for a prestigious tech company.
- Sarah: Nervous job applicant, eager to impress
- Mr. Johnson: Experienced interviewer, straight to the point
Here is an example:
Mr. Johnson: “So, Sarah, tell me about a time when you took initiative in a team setting.”
Sarah: (nervously tapping her foot) “Well, um, I once took the initiative to organize a, uh, surprise birthday party for a team member. It really lifted everyone’s spirits!”
Mr. Johnson: (pauses, clears his throat) “I was referring more to a professional context. Can you give an example related to work?”
Sarah: (eyes darting to the floor) “Oh, right. Of course. Um, let’s see… In my last job, I initiated a new filing system that, uh, increased productivity by 20%.”
Notice how Sarah’s initial misunderstanding of the question sets the stage for awkwardness (“The Tug-of-War of Desires”).
Her nervous foot tapping and Mr. Johnson’s clearing of his throat demonstrate the tension without stating it outright (“Show It, Don’t Spill It”).
The dialogue is realistic, complete with pauses and stammering (“Real Talk with Twists”).
Finally, the stakes are implicitly high because this is a job interview at a prestigious company (“Raise the Awkwardness Quotient”).
A Narrative Example: The Failed Proposal
Setting: A dimly lit, romantic restaurant, complete with candlelight and a live violinist playing softly in the background.
- Emily: Nervous but excited, planning to break up with her boyfriend
- Mark: Eager and hopeful, planning to propose to Emily
Here is an example:
Emily sat at the table, her fingers fidgeting with the napkin in her lap.
The candles flickered, casting warm shadows on her face. She took a deep breath, mentally rehearsing the words she planned to say. Tonight was the night she would end things with Mark.
Mark, on the other hand, was filled with a nervous excitement he couldn’t contain.
Tonight was special; he could feel it in his bones. His hand slid into his pocket, touching the velvet box that contained a diamond ring. Tonight was the night he would propose to Emily.
The waiter arrived with their entrées, carefully setting the plates in front of them.
Mark took it as his cue, clearing his throat to speak. “Emily, these past few years have been the happiest of my life,” he began, his eyes searching hers.
Emily looked up, her heart sinking.
This wasn’t how she imagined this conversation would go. “Mark, I need to talk to you about something important,” she interrupted, trying to seize control of the moment.
Ignoring her, Mark pushed his chair back and got down on one knee. The restaurant went silent, all eyes turning to the unfolding scene. “Emily, will you marry me?” he asked, opening the velvet box to reveal the sparkling diamond ring.
Emily’s eyes widened in horror, her face turning crimson.
“Mark, I can’t. I was going to break up with you tonight,” she blurted out, regret filling her voice instantly.
The room was thick with awkwardness. Mark’s face turned a shade of red that rivaled Emily’s. The violinist stopped playing, the haunting silence replacing the sweet melody. Mark stood up, clumsily pushing his chair back into place. “I see,” he muttered, closing the ring box with a soft snap.
For what felt like an eternity, neither of them spoke.
The waiter, sensing the tension, quietly retreated to the kitchen, leaving the couple to their devastating awkwardness. Finally, Emily broke the silence. “Mark, I’m so sorry. I never meant for it to come to this.”
In this example, the stage is set in a romantic restaurant (“Set the Mood with the Stage”).
Both Emily and Mark have drastically different intentions, heightening the awkwardness (“The Tug-of-War of Desires”).
The dialogue and actions—such as Mark getting on one knee and Emily’s abrupt confession—show, rather than tell, the awkwardness (“Show It, Don’t Spill It”).
The pacing is carefully managed to let the awkwardness simmer (“The Tightrope of Timing”).
Finally, the stakes are incredibly high, as the outcome affects both their relationship and their future (“Raise the Awkwardness Quotient”).
Final Thoughts: How to Write Awkward Scenes
How you write awkward scenes will be intensely personal.
You will base them on your own experiences, feelings, fears, and insecurities. At least, that is what I believe the best writers do.
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