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How to Write a Sonnet

For those special occasions, say it with a sonnet -- a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter. You don't have to be Shakespeare, either, just follow these tips.

Instructions

  • Step 1: Define Know the definition of iambic pentameter. An iamb is a rhythmic unit called a foot consisting of one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable. It could be a single word, such as "instead" or two monosyllabic words, like "go on." Pentameter means the iamb is repeated five times.
  • Step 2: Find rhythm Clap out the rhythm of iambic pentameter and repeat: da DUM/da DUM/da DUM/da DUM/da DUM.
  • TIP: Use this famous line from Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" as a guide, which begins: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
  • Step 3: Plan worksheet Create a worksheet by drawing a straight line on a piece of paper and dividing it into five segments. Repeat 14 times for the 14 lines of the sonnet.
  • Step 4: Place rhyme scheme Write in the letters that represent the rhyme scheme at the end of each of the 14 lines. Shakespearean sonnets often have a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
  • TIP: The four lines grouped together of a sonnet are called a quatrain. The ending two lines are called a rhyming couplet.
  • Step 5: Write iamb Write one iamb -- one unstressed syllable and one stressed -- in each segment until you have 10 syllables in iambic pentameter. This is your sonnet's first line.
  • TIP: If your thoughts don't fit into the scheme, use a thesaurus to find alternate words.
  • Step 6: Repeat step Repeat for the next three lines. Make sure the quatrain matches your rhyme scheme: lines one and three should rhyme, and lines two and four should rhyme. Come up with two different rhyming sounds for the next quatrain, CDCD, and another two for the third quatrain, EFEF. The last two lines, GG, should rhyme with each other.
  • Step 7: Study examples Study the sonnets of poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Wordsworth for classic examples. Soon, your sonnet will be expressing ideas worthy of the classics!
  • FACT: Elizabeth Barrett Browning secretly wrote a series of 44 sonnets about her love for her husband-to-be, the poet Robert Browning.

You Will Need

  • Definition of iambic pentameter
  • Worksheet
  • Pencil
  • Rhyme scheme
  • Classic examples
  • Thesaurus (optional)

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