What happens when two improvisers collaborate on a novel together? In Nick Scott and Noa Gavin’s case, a fun and random debut novel about multiple universes collapsing in on one another in the most unlikely of places. Readers are in for a treat when they pick up Scott and Gavin’s Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory: it is a clever story and its randomness rivals that of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Gavin currently works as a communications manager. She has been an improviser at the Dallas Comedy House in Dallas, Texas for about six years where she teaches and coaches improv and it is also where she met her co-writer. She owns a small dog and a small cat (says they are dicks) and says that she is the biggest nerd in the world. Scott attended the University of Texas in Austin and majored in radio, television, and film. He moved to LA where he began his improv training, but moved back to Texas, taking up residence in Dallas where he started improvising at the Dallas Comedy House. He has been improvising for ten years and Gavin was one of his students. He has a small dog (says she’s an angel, unlike Gavin’s pets) and says that he is also a nerd.
The idea for Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory was not one that sprouted up overnight. “It was, I want to say, three years ago and [Nick and I] were like, ‘Hey, we should write a book together.’ Then we did nothing with that for a year. We had a five minute conversation and decided we would do that and didn’t talk about it again,” Gavin said. “And then a couple years ago, we were like, ‘Yeah, stuff has actually quieted down. Let’s actually do this.’ So we thought independently about stuff we might want to write about and I read a little bit of what Nick had written and he read some of mine, too. I was always really interested in space and physics and especially how they relate to theoretical multiverse and time travel. We think they could exist, but we really have no idea and what that could potentially mean, I always found that really fascinating.”
A spark formed in Scott’s mind from Gavin’s fascination that formed the basic structure for their story: the idea of a high school with many universes collapsing into it. They chose to draw out a map of their setting and the high school within their book is actually based off of Scott’s high school. “We drew the map out so we could describe the same places as we were writing and we discussed what the ending would be and I think there were one or two points we had to hit within the story,” Scott said. Gavin referred to the basic structure as the “bones” of their story. “We knew who our characters were, we described our characters to one another, we knew who our villain was and kind of what role he had, but not really, and [decided] we’d figure most of him out on the way, and we knew how it ended,” Gavin said. “We mainly only had REALLY bare bones and then it was like, ‘All right, let’s party.’”
With only a very basic structure, how did the actually story of Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory come to be? To a reader’s surprise, it was formulated through improv. “I primarily wrote the Scott chapters and Noa wrote primarily the Davey chapters and, essentially, I would write a chapter, send it to her, and [Noa] didn’t know what I was going to be writing and she would take whatever I wrote and write the next thing. She would send that one back to me and I would read that, not having any clue of what she was going to do and then I would write the next chapter from there. So, it was, essentially, like an improv scene,” Scott said. “We tried to have fun writing each other into holes to be like, ‘Ha, let’s see how Noa gets out of that thing.’ Outside of those very basic bones, everything else was [improv]. It was kind of nice. It almost made it a little bit easier when we wrote it together, but we didn’t have to sit in the same room or constantly consult each other. It did make for a more complicated editing process because there were all kinds of inconsistencies because we were just going by the seat of our pants while writing, but it made the initial write a lot easier to manage.”
During this improvised writing process, Gavin said they chose to work off of the “yes, and” principle: you agree to what your partner is setting up and then you add on to it. “We wrote the entire book like that: you say yes and then you build on that. You say yes and you build on that,” Gavin said. “The first initial [draft] was really fun because Nick would come up with stuff that I was like, ‘I never thought about that.’ I would think I wrote him into a corner and that’s one of the most fun parts about improv: you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to set you up for this joke and I bet I know where you’re going to go,’ and the best part is you have no idea where somebody else is going to take what you’ve done and that’s exactly what we do to each other.” One such scene Gavin mentioned was when the characters are escaping the library and, upon opening the doors, there is a crowd of fan girls freaking out over Scott. Gavin had set Scott up for this and wondered how he would write his way out and the route he took was not at all what she thought would happen. “It was completely new and really fun, but the entire book was like that, so it was super fun to write that,” Gavin said.
Every writer has a favorite part in his or her story and, sometimes, it is not a scene readers would expect. For Gavin, her favorite scene came towards the end of their story. “My favorite bit of all time is a bit in the finale where [the characters are] watching all these universes come together and I wrote the paper planes with paper passengers and all of the paper passengers are screaming,” Gavin said. “When we were writing the end, everything was collapsing and we were trying really hard to [figure out] what other universes, what other possible things could we write and that just popped into my head: the visual of these paper passengers losing their minds and I had to put down what I was doing because I was laughing too hard. I don’t think anyone else enjoys it, but I do and I don’t care because that visual to me is so hilarious!” For Scott, it wasn’t a scene he enjoyed writing, but a character. “I don’t think there was a part that I didn’t actually enjoy writing, but I know that I really enjoyed the character of Lenny, the peer mediator. I think I did the majority of those scenes and I really enjoyed writing that character,” Scott said.
Scott and Gavin’s debut was made possible by the very first contest hosted by the online publisher Inkshares and the popular podcast Sword & Laser: the Sword & Laser Collection Contest. Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory was one of six winners of the contest. Scott and Gavin hadn’t really known about Inkshares at the time and Scott had heard about the contest through the Sword & Laser podcast, but both said that Inkshares has been great during the whole publishing process, incredibly supportive and great to work with.
With their book being published this month, both Scott and Gavin are feeling very different emotions. Scott said that while they were pushing people to preorder books during the contest, now they are pushing people to buy the book if they haven’t already and, if they have, to leave a review. “We wrote this thing, it’s out there somewhere, and other people are experiencing it which is a super weird thing,” Scott said. “We’re doing a lot of work, but it’s exciting. I’m enjoying the fact that we have a book coming out.” Gavin, on the other hand, feels differently about the publication of their book. “I don’t know how you react when good things happen. So, for me, I’m having a very different experience. It’s really bizarre and kind of terrifying at the same time,” Gavin said.
Scott and Gavin’s story was marketed as a young adult novel; however, readers will come to different conclusions upon completing the story for themselves. When it came to the audience, they didn’t think about who they intended the audience to be: they just wrote whatever came to their minds. “I think there’s definitely stuff where, if you’re somebody who just devours young adult teen fiction and that’s all you ever read, it’s probably going to be, at the very least, shocking to you,” Scott said. “Not because of necessarily the content, but different then probably what you were expecting or what you normally read.” Gavin added to Scott’s thoughts and said, “We just wrote the story we wanted to write and it ended up how it ended up. Some people who really love specific [young adult] fiction are just not that into it and we knew that was going to happen. It’s not for everybody; it’s not everybody’s young adult book.”
Even though their story is not necessarily young adult fiction, there are young adult aspects they did intentionally include in their story. “We set it in high school and we wrote true to our high school experience,” Scott said. “This is how those kids talked, this was how those kids acted, this was the kind of stuff they would think or say, so I think a lot of young adult [fiction] glosses over that a bit, but if you took out all the stuff about the universes collapsing, this is very much how my high school experience was.” Gavin agreed with Scott and said that her high school experience was very much the same as his. “I was Davey and I was kind of a terrible person until I got some [stuff] figured out in my life and stopped being like that, kind of like Davey. That’s who I was in high school,” Gavin said. “Davey has a boy’s name. I had friends who I thought were close and realized we weren’t. It’s as true as we can get it, but it’s also the high school experience I wish I could have had. Yeah, I was this terrible person, but I never got the chance to be the hero and I always wanted to be.”
As far as future books go, Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory was meant to be the first in a trilogy. Scott said the next one takes place when Scott and Davey are in college on spring break. Gavin said that, like their debut, they have the “bare bones” of their next story set up. “Right, now, we have the bare bones just like we did before with the original: This is the beginning, these are the two pivotal moments we definitely want to bring up, here are the main characters and the bad guy, and here’s how it ends,” Gavin said. They wish to keep the improv spirit alive, for it is more fun to figure out what’s going to happen this way.
It is rare to find a duo of writers that collaborate so well together and it is even rarer when the story, aside from a basic structure, is completely made up on the spot. Scott and Gavin are very inspirational new writers and want to encourage other writers to get their own stories out into the world. Gavin said, “For me, a couple of things. One is either find a writing partner or find someone who can help motivate you because it’s super hard to stay out of your own head. Your brain tells you you suck at what you’re doing and it’s really easy to quit, but having somebody else there who you’re accountable to made it one hundred percent easier and also a lot more fun. [Second is], if you have an idea, just do it. If you have an idea, just write it. There is no other way to do it.” Scott said, “For writing, just write all the time and don’t give up. Most stuff dies because people don’t finish it. Just keep writing even if it seems like garbage. You can always fix it later. Don’t go back and correct stuff, always move forward.” The inspiring and improvising writing pair’s debut Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory is out this month for any who wish to read and enjoy it.