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