A true sonnet contains the following:
- 14 lines
- Each line is written in iambic pentameter. This means that there are 5 feet per line. In each foot there is one unstressed and one stressed syllable for a total of 10 syllables. If your sonnet has only 9 syllables in one or more lines, it is NOT in true sonnet form.
- A rhyme scheme. Choose from one of many rhyme schemes and stick to that rhyme scheme throughout your sonnet. (See my post from July 22, 2022 entitled Rhyme Schemes)
I once read a poem by someone who said it was a sonnet. Well, at least five of the 14 lines had only 9 syllables, so it wasn’t written in iambic pentameter, and it didn’t follow a rhyme scheme.
People complemented the writer of the poem by telling that person how great a sonnet it was. Well, it wasn’t a sonnet. It was a beautiful poem with lots of meaning, but it wasn’t a sonnet.
Sonnets can be tricky to write, and they take time, given everything that goes into them. What I do is get the iambic beat in my head as I’m writing a sonnet. This beat goes something like this:
Line 1: ta da’ ta da’ ta da’ ta da’ ta da’
In the above line 1 example, each ta da’ is a foot. Notice there are only 5 of them, no more no less. The tick mark after each da’ means that the accent is placed on that syllable. Here is another way to look at it. Let’s put some actual words to the Line 1 example above. Each word or part of a word that is in all caps is the syllable that receives the stress.
Line 1: When SNOW has COME and LINgered FOR a TIME,
Make sure your lines follow a rhyme scheme.
Rhyme Scheme Examples:
Petrarchan: also know as Italian. abba abba cde cde OR abba abba cdc dcd
Here is how it will look in line form:
Line 1: a
Line 2: b
Line 3: b
Line 4: a
In other words, Line 4 will have the same end rhyme as Line 1. And Line 3 will have the same end rhyme as Line 2. For Lines 5, 6, 7, and 8, you would follow the same rhyme as you have for Lines 1, 2, 3, and 4. Again, for my article on rhyme schemes, see my post entitled Rhyme Schemes dated July 22, 2022.
Take your time and don’t rush when writing a sonnet. When you’re finished with it, go through each line again by reading it and counting the syllables to make sure you have 10. Also, make sure you have 14 lines and follow a rhyme scheme. For more information on writing sonnets, click the link below.