As in life, not everything in literature is flowers, butterflies, and perfectly executed romance. Far from it – so it wouldn’t make sense to avoid these kinds of moments simply because they make you uncomfortable. In fact, I would argue scenes that make you uncomfortable to write are exactly the scenes you should be focusing on. Moments that make you (or your characters) question their life choices are equal parts hilarious and thought provoking. Dive into these head first, and plunge through the awkward – because that’s often where the true message of your story is.
Introduce Character Flaws
Is your main character morbidly afraid of tripping on the stairs or dropping their lunch tray? Show this with maybe a dramatic dream-like flashback that exhibits the reasons for their insecurities. Or maybe someone said something stupid to them about a blemish one time, prompting them to be obsessed with skincare to a ridiculous degree. Awkwardness can be a highlighter illuminating things in the darkness that people might try to hide. Bring it to the forefront, no matter how much your character protests. Your story will be better for it.
Embrace Cringe-Worthy Details
This technique works especially well in Young Adult coming-of-age stories. This is largely because the characters are often growing at the same pace as the readers they attract. Face-plant in front of their first crush? Fantastic – extra points if you add a blush-worthy landing. First kiss caught on camera and posted on social media for the whole world to see? That sucks – but it’s also hilarious. Don’t be afraid to welcome cynicism – it’s your friend in this off-putting tonal shift, and will really help you get in the zone. Really anything that makes you (and your reader) want to read through partially covered eyes is what you want to shoot for. That “I can’t watch but I can’t look away” feeling is just the best. Get into the moment and the bodily sensation that these moments inspire.
Be Ruthlessly Awkward
As Murphy’s Law states, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This can be equal parts predictable, but also useful for writing awkward scenes. Maybe your characters have a terrible misunderstanding that is blatantly obvious to your reader. Maybe that even derails the entire plot, making the vast majority of the book needlessly awkward. But that just means your reader will be forced to keep reading for the inevitable conclusion that brings everyone back together. All the twists and turns that happen before that – are totally up to you. Have fun with it! For more help with using suspense in your story, read THIS article.
Imagine How You Would React
If you get stuck in a deliciously awkward scene that you’ve written and aren’t sure how your character would react, this is a place to start. Step back, and think about you would respond in that situation. Would you immediately run and hide? Or challenge your opponent to a joust? Okay, well that one’s a little extra – but you get the gist. Start with who you are, and then make adjustments for the character you’ve written. Maybe you know that you’re a bit of a wimp, but your character is a badass (but only so far). That means they might act a bit like you, but only once they’ve reached their breaking point. It’s up to you to decide what that might be.
Avoid Censoring Awkward Moments
Awkward scenes only work if you throw yourself into them, balls-to-the-walls, full-throttle. If you half-ass them because you think “well, that’s just a bit too far” then you’ve already failed. What you’ve got to do is ignore that little nagging pressure in the back of your head that says it’s just “too graphic” or “too much”. Sure, writing for a demographic is valid – but you’ve got to write your story first. Fit it into a demographic later. When you’re just getting the story down, there’s so much energy pent-up that must get out of your head. Hold nothing back, and let the awkward congeal until there’s nothing left for your reader to worry about. Worst-case scenario can be a fun tool, and awkward scenes provide the perfect habitat for those to thrive.
It’s totally normal to wonder how far you can push yourself, or how far your readers will want you to go. But I’ll tell you a little secret: that limit does not exist. The best kinds of books challenge what the reader was expecting in the most creative and shocking of ways. Of course, shock only goes so far without proper foreshadowing, so you don’t want to overdo it. But over time, you’ll learn your rhythms and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.