Poetry In Form (PIF) : Forum : Writing a sonnet!

Writing a sonnet!

11 Years Ago

How to write a sonnet?

This is a question that has been asked many poets. Poets who ask the questions are mostly lovers of sonnets but not quite sure how to write one. Before going into the subject, here's a munchie :

The term "sonnet" derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning "little song" or "little sound".

A sonnet should have 14 lines.

              This is the basic rule of a sonnet. Even if you write something with all the stuff that you'll be seeing below, it will not be a sonnet if you don't make it 14 lined. I'm telling this because sonnets tend to drain all the imagination inside you and the last 6 lines would seem too tough to write. But never give up.
The quatrains and the couplet.

Now you know sonnets have 14 lines, great.

There's a reason why sonnets are famous and it is this - Sonnets have preset rules as to how you should carry your imaginations. Let's divide the 14 lines into three 4-liners (called a quatrain) and one 2-liner (called a couplet).

The first quatrain should explain the main theme in your poem, kind of 'preparing' the reader and leading them into the sonnet.

The second quatrain
is the 'eye' of the sonnet and should contain some grand imagery and great description of the theme you intend.

The third quatrain is similar to the second quatrain, but often contains something unexpected. It maybe a twist in the theme so far, or an irony coming in. But, it may also be like the second quatrain - just a grand imagery.

The Couplet is the toughest part of the sonnet. It should cover up all that you have said in the previous 12 lines and should also give a 'conclusion' as to what you are trying to convey.

              If you want to see for yourself, better read Sonnet no. 18. Go here.
The rhyme scheme
Sonnets have very stubborn rules. But you are free to choose your own rhyming scheme. But the following are devised by famous poets, especially for sonnets (Several variations is rhyme scheme is possible). Take a look.
Italian (or Petrarchan) : abba, abba, cdec, de.

Occitan : abab, abab, cdcc, dc.

Shakespearean : abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

Spenserian : abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee.

Source : Wikipedia.

It's best to follow any of these rhyme schemes. But there's not really a bar on choosing your own. But, make sure it's not weird and doesn't have refrains.
A sonnet should be in meter.

Warning : Here's the toughest part of sonnets!

              'Meter' in poetry contributes to the 'rhythmic' perfection of a sonnet (or any other poem).  It's a tough rule as to how you should frame your words so that the reader might get a 'rhythm' while reading it. There are two major components of meter namely feet and caesura. But as for sonnets, all we have to worry about is the feet.

Foot (Syllable break-up)

There are many forms of foot. But the ones that normally fit into a sonnet are two. The iamb (Which is almost the only foot to be used in sonnets) and the trochee.
The iamb

              Iamb is a form of foot that follows the syllable pattern - A weak syllable followed by a strong syllable.

Example : Content with that my mind doth bring.

The trochee

              Trochees are the exact opposites of the iambs. A strong syllable followed by a weak syllable.

Example : When the stars threw down their spears.
Syllable stress

              For those who have problems with finding out the syllables and the stress, go here.

Some suggestions.

Don't worry, the nightmare part it over. These are just some suggestions/requests for the sonnets you write.

Sonnets are usually tagged 'beautiful'. So try to maintain it. Don't use derogatory words or describe such things in a sonnet.

Try not to bring in too much of 'personal' things ('Too much' being describing your personal experience line by line) into a sonnet. Sonnets are supposed to be free flowing. Personal things may induce a sonnet out of it's form. If you sure want to write one, make sure you make the message bold and clear.

Use simple language. The simpler, the more merrier the sonnet.

Never use a cliche in a sonnet. Sonnets, though large, need to convey much more. Cliches hinder the flow.

Use as many 'Figures of speech' as possible. Here are some of the often used figures of speech.

I'm saying this in the end because I knew you'd like this, after the 'nightmare'. Modern sonnets follow only the 14-line rule and the rhyme scheme (They say it's for free-flow, but I say it really puts down much of the beauty).
The above description is NOT a fruit of my thought. These are just raked up from several websites (From where I learned several things on poetry) and put together here. Comments, critiques, expansions and suggestions always welcome.