Writing a Sonnet

New!Some advice for starters from the Sonnet Board.

I've gotten a lot of mail lately about writing sonnets. As far as getting started, I think the easiest way is just to think of an iambic pentameter line--maybe one from a well known sonnet--and try to say something natural, modeled on that. If you're having trouble "thinking in iambic pentameter," it may help to memorize a sonnet (this is easier than it might sound). Once you've got your sonnet memorized, you may want to imagine the author looking over your shoulder and offering encouragement.

Once you start thinking about it, you may be surprised how many sentences and phrases will fit into the pattern. "I miss him more than usual today," for instance, is an iambic sentence. So is "I'll never understand this algebra" (more or less--but who knows what you'll rhyme with "algebra"; better to go with "I'll never understand geometry."). But your poem can be about anything at all; just keep in mind the pattern of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. Your teacher may appreciate it if you choose an unusual topic.

After the first line, depending on the type of sonnet you're writing, you already know at least one of your rhyme sounds, so you can plan ahead a little. If you're writing an Italian sonnet, you already know your first line will rhyme with the fourth, fifth, and eighth lines (ABBAABBA). If you're trying a Shakespearean sonnet, you'll be rhyming with only the third (ABAB CDCD).

In your Italian sonnet, there should be a "turn" after eight lines, where you begin to think of the subject differently. By the time you get to the end, the writer (you) and the reader should have discovered something new about the subject or should see it in a different light. If you like what you end up with, why not submit it to Sonnet Central? Good luck!

Some "rules" from The English Sonnet by Crosland.

Another explanation of iambic pentameter and hints on writing love poetry.

Stuck? Try some Sonnet Magnets.

Discuss sonnets and sonnet writing on the new sonnet board.