Sonnet Writing Activity

Define

The Sonnet is a poem with three important parts that tell us clearly that it is a sonnet:

  1. It has 14 lines.
  2. Each line has 10 syllables.
  3. It is a rhyming poem, with a strict rhyme pattern.

Explain

The two most well-known forms of sonnet are the English (or Shakespearean sonnet) and the Italian (or Petrarchan sonnet). Shakespeare popularised the English sonnet and Petrachan was the first major writer of the Italian sonnet. Sonnets are generally written in iambic pentameter.

Iambic pentameter means each line has 10 syllables. Syllables mean a division of words. For example when you say cat you are using 1 syllable, water you are using 2: wat-er; forever is three syllables for-ev-er; and so on. A way of remembering iambic pentameter is to say out loud: ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum. So the opening to a sonnet could be: Trav'lling in the night, who goes there? A witch.

So remember, a sonnet has 14 lines and 10 syllables. Lastly, you need to pay attention to the rhyme pattern:

Lines 1 and 3
rhyme A
Lines 2 and 4
rhyme B
Lines 5 and 7
rhyme C
Lines 6 and 8
rhyme D
Lines 9 and 11
rhyme E
Lines 10 and 12
rhyme F
Lines 13 and 14
rhyme G

On your paper number lines 1 to 14 and decide on a subject to write about. Think of a word associated with your subject, then write that on line 1. Repeat for line 2. Then for line 3 the word must rhyme with line 1 and lines 2 and 4 must rhyme also. Continue this way so lines 5 and 7, 6 and 8, 9 and 11, 10 and 12 all rhyme. Lines 13 and 14 are a rhyming couplet and therefore must rhyme with each other.

You should now have a list of 14 words that match the rhyme scheme above. Here is an example of how words on a particular theme can be used to create a Shakespearean Sonnet, the theme here is Macbeth.

  1. Witch
  2. Dark
  3. Hitch
  4. Spark
  1. Thunder
  2. Thud
  3. Under
  4. Blood
  1. Mad
  2. Guilt
  3. Sad
  1. Hilt
  2. Ghost
  3. Most

Show

An Example of a Sonnet

  1. Trav'lling in the night, who goes there? A witch (A)
  2. Witches, three, a coven, fire lights the dark (B)
  3. Predicting Macbeth's future without hitch (A)
  4. Macbeth heeds their words as the fire does spark (B)
  5. His wife's told the news as it does thunder (C)
  6. Their plan takes shape; nearby king's horses thud (D)
  7. Pressure too great, their marriage goes under (C)
  8. Too many deaths all for greed - too much blood (D)
  9. On Lady Macbeth's hands, she's driven mad (E)
  10. They have done wrong and now can't take the guilt (F)
  11. Their greed and power-lust has made them sad (E)
  12. The bloodied sword is return'd to the hilt (F)
  13. It's too late. Is that Banquo? No his ghost (G)
  14. ’Cause Macbeth lov'd power and status most (G)

Your Turn

If you'd like your work to be considered for publication in a future book, please email your entry to info@youngwritersusa.com along with your name, age and address.

Happy writing!