Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Queen Arthur

Question: In how many countries do you think this title would hinder sales in the EFL market?

Too many to get it commissioned as a Graded Reader, unfortunately.

OK, so titles can easily be changed, though it’s a pity for such a good one.

How about this question … which elements of this story do you think would bar it from being commissioned? (**Answers at the bottom)

A girl, escaping from school bullies, runs into a portal that takes her back in time to the days of King Arthur just before he pulls the sword from the stone. She ends up pulling it from the stone herself. As a girl, she can’t be King so she disguises herself as a boy and the real Arthur has to be her servant. He is dismissive of her because she’s a girl and she can’t stand his arrogance. In the end, they both learn from each other, become better people and each returns to their true role/time.

I’ve left out a lot of details that give away plot, though I have the synopsis fleshed out. With no way to sell it as a Reader, it has me thinking about what to do with it instead because I am convinced it’s a great story. Options I have thought of so far:

  1. Self-publish it as a Graded Reader.
  2. Approach publishers (probably the same ones!) in the general education sector i.e. mainstream education and try and sell it as a Reader aimed at native speakers with low reading levels.
  3. Try to write it as a screenplay and find an agent/production company.
  4. Write it as a YA novel and try and find an agent/publisher.
  5. Write it as a YA novel and self-publish.
  6. Some other medium for distributing books. Is Wattpad a worthwhile option, for example?

What do you think would be the best idea? Or do you have other suggestions?

I wrote the outline for Queen Arthur, like with Rain, rain, go away (just about to come out with Black Cat) to a story structure that means the right plot highs and lows are guaranteed. This kind of structure ensures you have a change in fortunes at the beginning, conflict and a satisfying resolution. I think inspiration can only go so far. That’s what gives you characters and a What if…? idea for the story but without a structure, the middle can drop out and the ending doesn’t tie things up properly. The one I use is the work of Nigel Watts, more detail here, and goes like this:

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3. The quest
  4. Surprise
  5. Critical choice
  6. Climax
  7. Reversal
  8. Resolution

I didn’t know about it when I was writing my two previously published readers but it is interesting to see that a story that works fits these stages — which is why it works and not just a coincidence!

The Tomorrow Mirror fits the stages like this: SPOILER ALERT 🙂

  1. Stasis — Jason is getting ready for school.
  2. Trigger — The mirror shows him a black eye, even though he doesn’t remember getting it and it doesn’t hurt. Later in the day, he’s hit by a ball and now he can feel it.
  3. The quest — The mirror is showing him strange things and he doesn’t know why.
  4. Surprise — His friend, Ryan, works out that it’s showing the future, 24 hours ahead.
  5. Critical choice — Ryan wants to use the mirror to predict lottery wins and cheat on an exam. Jason isn’t happy with it but doesn’t fight it completely. Ryan sees his face, burned, in the mirror — the mirror that hasn’t been wrong so far.
  6. Climax — There’s a fire at school. The boys realise people are trapped in a classroom. Jason helps them; Ryan thinks only of saving himself and cheating his destiny.
  7. Reversal — Jason and the others get out unscathed but Ryan gets hurt as the mirror has foreseen.
  8. Resolution — Both boys now agree the mirror’s power is dangerous and they shouldn’t use the lottery numbers they have got from it. The mirror has been destroyed in the fire.

Story arcs in class

The structure is useful for EFL lessons with a creative writing bent as you could set students books to read, whether Graded Readers, regular books or even books in their own language and get them to analyse the story according to the points above. Films should also work this way. They can do the analysis as a collaborative task as pinning the elements to the story events can be quite tricky and open to interpretation. I always struggle a bit with surprise through to critical choice and climax.

Next step could be writing stories using the structure. I remember being set story writing tasks at school with no safety net like a structure and it was literally “Write a story today …go!” with maybe “Here’s the first line” (as the Cambridge exams are so guilty of). It’s nearly impossible to come up with something good just like that. Free-writing is one thing, and might lead to the inspiration for a story, but a complete story is quite another, very challenging task — even in your own language! You could do this as a project over several lessons, spending introductory sessions on character and setting etc. first rather than going in cold. Your students might well surprise you, and themselves. After all, isn’t everyone meant to have a book in them?


** Bullying is not thought to be a good topic. I was totally blindsided there. I would have thought overcoming the bullies, which is what she does, would be very relatable. I see it has to be handled sensitively in class discussions as students could be in the room with their bully, but I think this would not be a problem in mainstream education. Indeed, it’s a topic that needs discussing in school and outside it.

The “girls are rubbish” attitude of Arthur. I am not sure if this is because, in the Middle East, the fact girls are treated as second class citizens means that a story which empowers girls is not going to be welcome by the education boards. Or maybe the reason is that it is not fair on the girls to make them think there is another way for society to run because they might not get that chance. I never saw this one coming either.


10 comments on “Queen Arthur

  1. Andrew Leon Hudson
    January 22, 2016

    What excellent ideas you come up with, how terrible that they are so under-appreciated..!

  2. Nicola
    January 22, 2016

    I should have said, Andrew Leon Hudson helped me throw ideas around for Queen Arthur and I often go to him for plotting help 🙂

  3. Russ
    February 25, 2016

    I love this idea for a story…why not pitch it as a kids’ book?

    • Nicola
      February 25, 2016

      Thanks! I think it’s young adult, whatever that means!, slightly older than a kids book, say 12-15 but then again, maybe as young as 11. Better check what the age ranges are, hadn’t i? I might do that, but you can’t pitch fiction, you have to write the entire novel and i am a little cowed by how much work that is for no guarantee it will even get published, let along make any money. I will either do that or a screenplay though I imagine

  4. markjoliver
    February 29, 2016

    Hey Nicola, I think if you expand it, it would make a great YA novel. You could send it off to some agents, and then if you have no luck self-publish it.

    Regarding structure, have you read Joseph Campbell’s seminal piece, The Hero with a Thousand Faces?

    It has inspired the best of writers, even Lucas used it in the original Star Wars. It really helped me structure my sci-fi novel. It’s very heavy going though.

    Also, a really great book in structure is John Yorke’s Into the Woods

    I heartily recommend this book. It talks a lot about Campbell and Vogel too.

    BTW, I finished my graded reader and self-published it. As expected sales have not been good, but it was a valuable experience and now I have written something I can share with my students.

    • markjoliver
      February 29, 2016

      Oh I forgot to add. I looked into rewriting my novel into a screenplay. I was put off when I read that only a very small number of movies get made every year and so the chances of someone buying a screenplay is much much lower than getting a book published. I think it’s something like a thousand times less likely. And getting a book published is no simple matter.

      This article might have been written by someone trying to streamline the competition though ha ha ha

      I ended up dropping my screenplay idea and decided to work on short stories, hoping to get one published in a magazine, as this seems to be the way most writers get their feet in the doors. I hope this is useful and not too deflating. There’s always a chance your screenplay might make it, as movies do get made. So don’t give up.

      • Nicola
        February 29, 2016

        Yes, i think an “easier” route is to have a book that then has the rights sold. That also needs an agent but I imagine as a published book writer I would have more credibility than as an amateur screenwriter. the majority of the Oscar’s films this year were based on books and, even though very hard, it does seem to be a route in.

    • Nicola
      February 29, 2016

      Yes, I actually wrote my university dissertation based on Joseph Campbell’s theory and I applied it to Superman I & II and read the articles about how George Lucas used it. I have done storyplotting workshops (attended not run) with the heromyth and other structures but definitely found this one the most workable. Thanks for the resources!

      Congratulations on the Graded Reader and I am sorry to say I am not surprised by sales but at some point someone will come up with a marketplace to get them into the hands of students. I meant to try WattPad and never did but I wonder if that is a good way especially if you had another title for sale that you could push readers towards. Have you got a link so I can take a look? Sales from published Readers are poor too so you probably haven’t missed much!

  5. markjoliver
    March 1, 2016

    That sounds like an awesome dissertation.

    Here’s a link to a free copy of the graded reader:

    I think when you self-publish anything, the chances of actually making any money are slim. But there’s always a chance it might be the next 50 shades or Wool, so worth a gamble. And surely there has to be market for students wanting to buy digital books in the future. Might be a waiting game.

    In the meantime, I’m slogging away with the short stories, hoping one of them is good enough to get into a magazine.

    • Nicola
      March 1, 2016

      I can’t help but be pedantic about this fact as it’s so widely misrepresented that i think it gives false hope – Fifty Shades wasn’t self-published. EL James was writing pieces on fan fiction forums for Twilight which she then developed into her books. The first book (or the others too, not sure on that one) was picked up by a small press with very little editing I think as that is the version I waded through, and that was a hit so it was bought by a major publisher.

      But Wool, and others, have had success that way, it’s true. Having a big back catalogue is apparently the most helpful thing to making money. I am not sure whether there is a market or not, the thing that is hard is *finding* those customers or having them find you. There is no marketplace for self-published Graded Readers yet, even if there is a market. That’s why i wonder about WattPad as a launch pad, though I’ve not kept up with it so don’t know how the platform has changed.

      Thanks for the link! Will check it out!

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