COMPETITION: Win Cornerstone's Book

To go with my series of interviews with Helen Corner Cornerstones, her UK literary Consultancy, are giving away a copy of their book, how to write a blockbuster, as a prize in a competition.

The book is packed full of their expertise:

So Competition Question:

What do you think the four cornerstones of good writing are?

Leave your answer as a comment to this post.
Helen will pick the winner.

Closing date 14th Dec.

Make sure you don't leave an
anonymous comment if you want to enter, otherwise we can't contact you to say you've won!
(email Cornerstones at with your details if you prefer not to leave them in the comments)


RockStories said...

Mike, I think the only cornerstone of good writing is finding what works for you rather than seeking cornerstones from someone else! Phrases like "the cornerstones of great writing" are fabulous for marketing, but I think that anyone who makes a living as a writer knows that there are very few fields in which the phrase "one man's trash is another man's treasure" is truer, and that the very approach that proves golden for one person may be the one that paralyzes another and saps all the creativity out of her. Know yourself. That's the only one.

Vivienne said...

Hi Mike, my cornerstones are plot, character, setting and voice. If I'm weak on one, the story's foundation isn't set right and the final product will be illogical, boring or meaningless. I always want my writing to affect readers somehow; like my characters or hate them, either way if I've done my job well, my writing can't be ignored.

Anonymous said...

A strong authorial voice; self-belief; perseverence; editing skills

Mike French said...

Anonymous & rockstories you need to leave a way of contacting you if you want to enter!



GO! Smell the flowers said...

Ours are:



Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike, as is my typical modus operandi, I posted this in the wrong place. Here are my four cornerstones of good writing in the correct post:

1- Well defined characters
2- A strong literary voice
3- appropriate and creative use of language. Examples: use of foreign languages or regional dialects, descriptive prose, technical jargon, or obscure occupational terminology.
4- A compelling story.
Thanks Mike. I'll catch up with you soon. -Mike (Mr. Grudge)

Paul said...

ENJOY. Write because you’re passionate about writing and because you get an addictive kick out of shaping ideas and images and stories from the written word ... and from the silences created by the absence of the written word. Hopefully, such passion will sing and dance and grieve and shout from every word that’s written, which in turn will infect and affect the reader. Furthermore, try and discover all the reasons you want to write, and be wary if fame, fortune or revenge appears in any great measure.

READ widely (and wildly). Read everything, from ancient literature to contemporary literature; read the good, the bad and the ugly; read newspapers and graphic novels and poems and plays and telephone directories and bus tickets; read other people and read yourself (and call it observation, if you like); read the weather, read politics, read the critics. And be critical: of what you read and how it’s written, and of what you write or choose not to write, of how people think and communicate and fail to communicate. Read and be critical of language and form and convention, and what works at a given point in time, and what doesn’t work, or no longer works, and why.

SHOW, don’t tell. This may well be an over-stated cornerstone, but it makes it no less true, no less significant. If I were to have anything tattooed on my forehead (in mirror-writing of course) it would be: ‘llet t’nob ,wohS’ The most obvious of lessons, but the hardest thing to maintain.

KNOW that there are no new stories, only new ways of interpreting and retelling old ones. I find this a liberating and empowering cornerstone of writing, because instead of struggling to invent a unique sequence of events that will force characters to interact in a unique way, I can focus instead on the telling of the story. I believe it’s important to know that it’s okay to borrow the basic dynamics of an idea from history or folklore or fairytales or whatever, from Shakespeare or Sophocles or whoever, because all storytellers build on borrowed stories. Stories reflect our cultural heritage and, whilst they often seem to end up in similar places (in terms of the resolution of conflict, and the growth of characters, or the view that’s presented of the world we’ve created for ourselves), it’s the adventure and the path we take towards each of these places that should be the most unique, interesting and compelling part of the journey.

Mike French said...

Paul: Helen is judging this comp, but I've got to say that wins the all time award for the most amazing comment to a post I have ever seen!

Nice one.

Paul said...

I got carried away!

Andrew said...

The four cornerstones of good writing: Truth. Fresh point of view. Craft. Strong narrative.

Dee Weaver said...

Blimey, how can I follow that? Well said, Paul.

My four cornerstones:

A well structured plot that permeates the whole story.
Believable characters, with flaws and surprises.
A magic carpet that carries readers off and away into a different world.
Unputdownableness (don’t anyone tell me that’s not a real word ;) )


Sami Winter said...

Writing is a foreign country, a place where there are no laws to obey, just conventions. The traveller who familiarises themselves with the local customs, before setting off, will save time on arrival. Visit only the places your heart takes you to, if that place is your home, so be it. Listen to the sounds of those strange, exotic voices you encounter, one of them might be yours. When you write, write stranger than fiction.

rdb said...

I doubt the following could ever be held up as the four cornerstones of writing, but they mean something to me anyway…

1) Digging deep:
As a boy, Charles Darwin was mad about beetle-collecting. The excitement of finding new kinds was an intense experience and he held onto that emotional memory all his life. As an old man he wrote to a friend: ‘whenever I hear of the capture of rare beetles I feel like an old war horse at the sound of a trumpet’.

I feel if I can touch something with my writing that echoes far back into my childhood then I am dealing with powerful emotions that might resonate with readers.

2) Analysis:
Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman argued with artistic friends over flowers. They claimed he could never appreciate their true beauty because he wouldn’t just look; he had to analyse and reduce them to patterns of electrons. He retorted that the more he understood what made a flower, the more complex and beautiful he found it.
The more I understand how others put their books together, the more complex and beautiful I find the craft of writing. I hope that deepening understanding might improve my own work.

3) Gaps:
Beethoven said his music was all about the gaps between the notes. They were food for the listener’s expectations and emotions.
I believe I feed off gaps when reading a book. Maybe it’s another way of saying ‘show not tell’.

3) Care:
Charles Darwin again and one of the great mis-predictions. Darwin’s dad told his teenage son ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching. You will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.’ But when Darwin found something he really did care about then he, arguably, changed the world.
I’ll never change the world but if I really care about my characters and my story then I hope I might at least catch someone else’s attention for a while.

Welshcake said...

Here are my four:





I’m off to do some…rewriting!

Simon Griffiths said...

Good writing is original. It entertains, informs and provokes.

kathleenmaher said...

1. Write and rewrite until you find your inner voice.

2. Practice singing with your inner voice; discover it's music.

3. Build the confidence and character to keep writing until your voice resounds and your words dance.

4. Once you've developed all this, you know what to write and how to write it like no one else. That's your base. Step four requires revealing it all so quickly, it seems effortless.

cardiogirl said...

Four Cornerstones of good writing:

First: Sadly, these days spell check is number one.

Second: An idea of where you are going with the thought. Rambling is okay -- I find there's a place for it in my own writing -- as long as you get to the point.

Third: Good descriptions. We all know it's hot in summer. Exactly how hot is it?

Fourth: Have fun. If you're not interested in your own writing, why would anyone else be?

sparky said...


Mike French said...

Wow these are all brilliant, thanks everyone.

Comp closes this Friday. Helen needs to be able to contact you to be included in the comp, if you have left or leave a comment without a link to you then e-mail Cornerstones with your details to

before Friday. Thanks

CHRIS PASH said...

1. Keep writing
2. As yourself: Who are you writing this for?
3. Is there a way to make this shorter?
4. Active voice

nickmorgan02 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nickmorgan02 said...

Passion - without passion you have nothing. Let’s face it for the majority of writers it’s a slog: you work on your own all the time reaching into the ether for ideas only to write and rewrite them over and over again. Be passionate: it’s the only way. 

Determination - be determined, be driven, give it your heart and your soul. Be prepared to smear your very life essence down on the paper - and then rewrite it!

Have Something to Say - believe in what you are writing, be true to yourself and your passion (see one). The chances are if you feel strongly about something so will your readers. 

Nuts and Bolts - this is all the other stuff that you need: write and rewrite, read out loud before you submit, have punchy dialogue and stunning description, read other books (your contemporaries and the classics) oh and go to workshops. Have your work read by experts, show don’t say, use the spell check. And don’t give up if you are rejected: it’s not the end, just part of the process.

muslimah rashid said...

1. The way the words are used.
2. The way the writer tells his story or any other writing: how the writing starts, flows and ends can make a simple writing a unique.
3. Characters
4. Setting or atmosphere.
my e-mail address:

sarah, cherry said...

my 4 cornerstones are: write to express yourself, not to impress others.