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Write a Sonnet (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shop

Creative Writing Exercise

This week you’re going to write a sonnet.

Some of you just rolled your eyes, because sonnets are child’s play. Some of you just gripped at a failing heart, because sonnets are Shakespeare-level expert stuff. If you’re in either category, you missed the point of yesterday’s post. That’s okay. I’ll say another word or two about it next Tuesday, but for now I want you to humor me.

As far as structured poetry goes, sonnets are pretty straightforward: fourteen lines, in sets of four (called quatrains) with an extra pair of rhyming lines at the end (called a couplet). The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g, so the four lines of your first stanza might have final words that look like this:





That’s not terribly complicated. The extra complexity of it comes from the meter — you’ve got to make the whole thing iambic pentameter. Every line should be ten syllables long, and the pattern is one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable (baDUM baDUM baDUM baDUM). If that all sounds too complicated, then focus on just this last part, and try to write one line. Write ten syllables, and try to make the stress work out. (And if you have to fudge it a little bit, nobody’s going to call you out, I promise.)

Once you’ve got one line done, repeat the process, saying something that follows from the first line, and now you’ve written two lines in iambic pentameter. For the third line, you’re doing the same thing, but ending on a word that rhymes with the end of the first line. It’s a little trickier, but not too bad.

Follow it through for eleven more lines, and you’re done. And, just like that, you’ve written a sonnet. Tada! You’re Shakespeare.

If you’re part of the “child’s play” group, then that’s all way too much explanation, and way too little challenge, so I’ll pile on. For those of you who can already write sonnets in your sleep, your challenge is to write one that works as a couple paragraphs of perfectly reasonable prose, like I did in this old blog post (and if you can’t spot it right away, check the comments).  That adds a little effort to the exercise. If you make something you’re satisfied with, feel free to hide it in a blog post of your own, and feel quietly superior while none of your readers appreciate your wit.

Either way, post your poem in the comments section. Sonnets are short enough to share, and difficult enough to earn you some real recognition. Share your accomplishment with us, and we’ll heap you high with praises.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

13 Responses to “Write a Sonnet (Creative Writing Exercise)”

  1. You have such interesting things to do some days. I haven’t written a sonnet for years. I am thinking about finishing my epic poem that is you know dragonslayer type story but it is in Iambic Pentameter. Not many people even know what that is outside of school anymore. Good stuff man.

  2. Aaron Pogue says:

    Wow, Justin. Carlos has been saying for a while that you and I need to get to know each other, but I didn’t know how right he was.

    I say all that because I’ve got an unfinished dragonrider epic in Iambic pentameter gathering dust somewhere. I set that one aside to work on a vampire opera (also unfinished), but somewhere in all those pages I got to the point I could do Iambic pentameter in my sleep.

    I’m glad you’re liking the exercises. I have a lot of fun coming up with good ones.

  3. Carlos Velez says:

    @Aaron Pogue: what?! You’re writing a vampire opera?! How do I not know this? I don’t even know what to think.

  4. Carlos Velez says:

    @Aaron Pogue: oh yeah, and start paying attention to how often you say “Carlos was right.” It’s becoming your catch phrase 😉

  5. Carlos Velez says:

    @Aaron Pogue: keep it up and I’ll turn it into a drinking game.

  6. Aaron Pogue says:

    Carlos, I do have editing enabled on comments. Then again, I guess you’re boosting my depressingly sparse comment count, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

    But, no, the vampire opera thing was a middle school project. It definitely doesn’t compare to the one you’ve imagined. If not for Justin’s comments, I could have lived the rest of my life in peace without once remembering it.

    Also, I’m hoping I put this “Carlos was right” nonsense behind me, now that the Pre-Writing Challenge is done. Sure, every single aspect of that event secured your reputation as a wise and capable blogging coach, but I’m hoping it was just a fluke.

  7. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Hey Aaron! Do the vampires in your opera sparkle? Bahahahahahaha!

  8. @Aaron Pogue: Did you ever see Forgetting Sarah Marshall? There is a great vampire opera at the end. and dont be blaming me, you wrote the thing to begin with.

  9. Aaron Pogue says:

    They do sparkle sometimes, Courtney, but it’s only in those first few seconds after getting splashed with holy water. After that, it’s more what you’d call a “blaze.”

  10. Aaron Pogue says:

    I’ve seen it once, Justin. But now that you mention it…I think I need to see it again.

    The bit at the end was incredible, too. Carlos, if you haven’t seen it, check that one out. Even in abbreviated form, that’s far better than anything I was working on.

  11. Carlos Velez says:

    @Courtney Cantrell: *snicker* You just became my new favorite person. If you’ve never seen Aaron Cullen, remind me to show you that photo. *snicker*

    Ahh, this is great entertainment. Aaron & Justin, that movie is hilarious. Especially the vampire opera, though I’m sure you could whip out a fabulous one Aaron.

  12. Courtney Cantrell says:

    @Aaron Pogue: You would.


    @Carlos Velez: I have, indeed, been so fortunate as to view Aaron Cullen–much to my extreme amusement. LOL Sorry, Aaron. ;oD

  13. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Okay, here’s my sonnet. I combined it with the strip poem exercise–which included stripping the visual form of the sonnet. But the iambic pentameter and the ending rhymes are there. Feedback = appreciated. ;o)

    naked sonnet of arrogance and giggles

    today i sketch in sun while two girls talk
    of dogs and cats
    of cars and how they run
    or dont
    my pencil shades
    my mind does balk
    at hearing expletives my lips would shun

    they gossip
    giggling loud with shoulders bare
    the cling of halter tops to slender flesh
    their noses pierced and tattoos ev rywhere
    hair riot colors
    legs in stocking mesh

    i with my pencil scribe a potted tree
    the kiss heaven hot upon my face
    and theirs
    is grace bestowed by blind decree i ask
    and pride departs without a trace

    i walk past one girl
    and so does she
    a lovely day
    sun tattoos laughs
    and me

    courtney weger cantrell
    march 29 2010