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How to Write a Sonnet

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Have you ever wanted to write poetry like Shakespeare? Now is your chance! Keep reading to find out how to write a Shakespearean Sonnet. Or, if that doesn't fit your fancy, try out one of the other types of sonnets.

The sonnet is one of the most popular poetry forms around the world and is considered a sub-genre of the lyric. It is centuries old and yet still has poets by their hearts and minds just the same today as it did when the genre was first invented.

Steps to Write a Sonnet

  1. Select a subject for your writing. Themes of sonnets usually focus on love or philosophy, but modern sonnets cover almost any topic. Be sure to choose a theme which you can easily identify with and know a lot about.
  2. Divide the theme of the sonnet into two sections. The first section you will present the situation or thought; the second section will present a conclusion or climax. This is true for virtually all types of sonnets, regardless of whether they are Italian, English, or modern.
  3. Shakespearean: The first section will contain three quatrains--three stanzas of four lines each. Italian: The first section contains only one stanza consisting of eight lines.
  4. Shakespearean: Write the three starting quatrains using a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f rhyme scheme (1). Most sonnets use the iambic pentameter (2), even though it is becoming less and less true in modern day poetry. See the "tips" section below. Italian: Write the first stanza using the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a.
  5. For a Shakespearean Sonnet: The last section should consist of a couplet--two rhyming lines of poetry. The couplet should use a g-g rhyme scheme, where the last words of the two lines rhyme with each other. This is true only if you are wishing to write a Shakespearean Sonnet. For an Italian sonnet, use the rhyme scheme c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-d-c-d.

Tips to write a sonnet

1) Use the a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f rhyme scheme for an English (Shakespearean) sonnet. An Italian sonnet uses a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a for the first section, called the octave, and c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-d-c-d in the second section, called the sestet.

Modern sonnets sometimes do not rhyme at all, instead use only 14 lines with 10 syllables each.

2) An iamb is a metrical 'foot' composed of two syllables, with the accent on the second syllable. Examples: 'to-day' or 'en-rage.'

Pentameter means there are five metrical feet per line. Therefor, Iambic pentameter means each line consists of five iambic feet (10 total syllables).