I have been having a go at writing a sonnet recently, and really I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. I have had to abandon my first attempt as I realised that I was going to find it difficult to find the right rhymes for each line.
But, undeterred I am having another go. The first prerequisite I have decided is to sort out the scansion issue. This is where each line of the sonnet has to be iambic pentameter, basically ten syllables, with alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. Stressed syllables usually fall at the beginning of a word, but sometimes, for instance the word “deceive”, it’s the second syllable that is stressed. Luckily most dictionaries provide a guide as to which syllable has the primary stress.
The stress of the single word!
But what about single words. In these cases they are stressed if the word is grammatically important – i.e. it’s a noun, verb, adjective, rather than a pronoun or article. This I think is where it gets a bit more subjective.
So, phew, once you get the hang of that you then need to sort out the rhyme scheme, which can vary a lot, but for your standard Shakespearean sonnets tends to be:
A B B A C D D C E F F E GG
A B A B C D C D E F E F GG
Now it’s quite challenging to get the rhymes, but doable I think.
Content and Structure
The big challenge is really what are you going to write about, and here I think the sonnet tradition gives the beginning poet a bit of help as there tends to be an accepted structure of what content goes where depending on which quatrain or group of four lines you are writing. So:
- First quatrain: An exposition of the main theme and main metaphor.
- Second quatrain: Theme and metaphor extended or complicated; often, some imaginative example is given.
- Third quatrain: Peripeteia (a twist or conflict), often introduced by a “but” (very often leading off the ninth line).
- Couplet: Summarizes and leaves the reader with a new, concluding image.
So, wish me luck! If I get this down I will hopefully be posting some examples here!