age range: 14 and up
genre: contemporary fiction
themes / topics: theater, improv, gender equality
Nicole Kronzer’s website
A truly special book, written at exactly the right time.
— Printz Award winner Nina LaCour
Strong character development and exploration of timely topics make this novel shine…
Kronzer deftly combines what it means to be a female in comedy with a story of contemporary resonance that evokes the #MeToo movement.
This is a well written story that provides insight into the development of an abusive, narcissistic relationship and the power of standing up for yourself.
–– School Library Connection
Please tell us about your book.
Unscripted is about seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho, a girl with her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay?
What inspired you to write this story?
I have been performing and/or teaching improv for more than twenty years. I have also been teaching high school English for fourteen. This story is a combination of my love for improv and my love for teenagers, and for wanting both to be great.
Could you share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Pretty late in the writing process, my editor and I decided it would be fun if Zelda referred to a specific set of improv rules throughout the book. I learned that modern improv popped up in several places in England and the U.S. kind of at the same time, so there’s no one set of rules. (Calculus did this too—in separate locations on opposite sides of the globe! But that’s just a fun fact—there’s no calculus in my book. 😉 ) Each improv company has their own rules, though there are some that are very similar. So I invented a fictional improv book called The Scene Must Win and culled all my favorite improv guidelines into one place.
Also, I have a character, Hanna, who has Oculocutaneous Albinism, Type 1. A former student of mine also has this condition, so I asked him to read the book and give me his opinion of her portrayal in particular. He said, “Hanna’s great, Kronzer, but you’re always having her make eye contact with people across stage. People with albinism have crap eye sight. I can’t ever make eye contact from far away.” It taught me that research is great, but it can’t replace experience. I’m really thankful to this student (and all my beta readers) for helping me paint a more accurate picture of people whose lives are different than mine.
What are some special challenges associated with writing improv scenes?
This was weirdly hard. The whole point of improv is that it’s off the top of performers’ heads—no planning involved. At first, I thought I wouldn’t write any improv scenes. Improv is never as funny when it’s filmed, for instance, when compared to the magic of actually being there in the room. I figured written improv scenes were just a giant headache waiting to happen.
Swiftly, however, I realized if I was going to write a book about improv, I had to show improv scenes. When I started writing them, it was a challenge to make something sound smart and funny, but not too smart and funny. We have to believe Zelda and her teammates and friends are capable of coming up with these characters and lines off the top of their heads, but they also have to be funny enough to survive being read. I hope I managed the right balance!
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
As a teacher myself, my own students were never far from my mind. There’s definitely plenty of fun English teacher fodder like multiple characters who grow and change, symbolism, figurative language, and an exciting plot.
But there’s also important interpersonal lessons about what an emotionally abusive relationship looks like and what good relationships look like. There’s a diverse cast of characters. We see what it looks like to be an ally. I heard Ally Condie speak once, and she said when she wrote her first book, she wrote a book she thought her students would like. I tried to do that, too. But I also kept thinking about writing the kind of book my students needed.