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Thursday Apr 18, 2019

How to Write a Sonnet

One hundred fifty-four - that's how many of the Shakespearean sonnets exists in the history of literature. They are filled with words of love and longing, friendship and separation, bravery and cowardice.

Francesco Petrarca has created three hundred sixty-six poems to celebrate and admire a mythical golden-haired Laura, the existence of whom we still doubt.

But why are poems that were written over five centuries ago still so famous? What compels people to keep reading and analyzing them? The answer is simple: just as the Earth orbits around the Sun, the human existence revolves around emotions and sentiments.

As the years go by, love is the driving force of life. It can start and end wars, create beautiful and atrocious, inspire art and break a person's soul. Love is woven into our existence, and that is why people have been reading, writing, and talking about it since the dawn of time. So, today you'll learn how to write a proper sonnet.

Exploring the Meaning

What is a sonnet? Originated in Italy, the term means "little song or lyric." It traditionally has fourteen lines, with iambic pentameter dictating the rhythm. You cannot stray away from the requirements because even a small alteration will mean your creation can no longer be called a traditional sonnet. The scheme is the same nowadays as it was six hundred or sixty years ago! Every line has ten syllables, with the rhyme pattern keeping to a strict schematic structure.

We believe that it can be fun and even easy to write a sonnet when you have useful tips and examples at your fingertips. That is why we developed a practical guide on how to create a sonnet if your name is not William or Francesco.

Sonnet Types

There are a few main variations of the poem - Shakespearean (English), Petrarchan (Italian), Spenserian, Curtal, and Miltonic.


The most popular and commonly used is English sonnet, also known as Shakespearean thanks to the mysterious riddles and theories surrounding this historical figure.

The rhyme structure here is always the same: ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GG. These letters show the scheme of a sound that arises at the end of every line.

Compare this pattern and one of Bard's sonnets, and you have a clear picture.

  • The words at the end of the first and third lines always rhyme.
  • The second line resonates with the fourth.
  • The fifth line ending sync with the seventh.
  • It all ends with a rhyming heroic couplet.

The Shakespearean sonnet can be your way to start if you're a rookie poem writer because it has the plainest rhyme structure.

Another worthy point to mention is the iambic pentameter. It is the meter in the poem writing that controls the change of rhythm in a line. The features of the English sonnet state that the central part of the poem should be adherent to this metric line.

Keep in mind to use sonnet's stanzaic structure. Shakespearean kind is built on three heroic quatrains and one couplet. The quatrains include four iambic lines and the couplet - two iambic lines.

Never forget that your poem must contain your soul apart from dry rule-following. Each line should contain deep thought and tell part of the sonnet story, and each quatrain must lead to the next dramatic turn.


This rhyme scheme (also known as Italian) differs from the English one because it doesn't have a general pattern. The first eight lines, called the octave, usually follow a rhyme pattern ABBA-ABBA while the next six lines (sestet) can vary in rhyming.

A Petrarchan sonnet allows for more ambiguous plot twists, as it has a flexible structure, unlike the Shakespearean. Go with this one when you are tasked to cover deep and emotional issues. In the octave, you describe the topic and the problem, reaching the climax in the ninth line and presenting the new side of the issue in the sestet.

Spenserian, Miltonic, and Curtal

These are less common types, but they're a perfect choice for when you want to stand out in class and showcase your flexible writing skills.

  • The Spenserian is based on English sonnet. It also includes three quatrains, one couplet, and iambic pentameter, but the rhyme scheme here differs. Every new quatrain starts with the rhyme of the previous one. Follow this pattern: ABAB-BCBC-CDCD-EE.
  • The foundation of Miltonic one resonates with the Petrarchan sonnet, but with one difference - Miltonic doesn't have the change of flow between octave and sestet.
  • The curtal sonnet is a type with a lesser number of lines. Seemingly eleven passages compose into a ten-and-a-half scheme. Every but the last line is in iambic pentameter.

Try It Yourself

Now, let's see what steps you need to take to compose a sonnet. To gear up for your writing battle, settle on a type you will create. If you have no experience in poetry writing, the Shakespearean will be a good choice as it has the most obvious and transparent structure.

With that in mind, don't be intimidated by other variations! They may present a challenge, but you can never improve without overcoming difficulties and facing your fears. Experimenting with styles and schemes can help you caseharden your character and writing skills!

  • Choose a theme.
    This stage is essential, and, unless your professor assigned you a specific topic, the choice can be difficult. Ponder on the purpose and audience of your future work. Bear in mind that the strict framework doesn't allow writing about something too broad. The climax in sonnets comes quick, thus your theme has to be the one you can cover and explore in just fourteen lines.
  • Look for inspiration.
    Study some of the Petrarchan works and look at Shakespearean poems. You'll see how the authors learned to recognise good things in the evil and try to develop the plot of your sonnet. Observe, learn, create - become a better and better author!
  • Go all out.
    Writing should be creative and fun for you, not a burden put on you by the professor. Cultivate the form and style of your own, but remember the main rules. Use the rhyming dictionary if it's difficult for you to find those by yourself. Have you got better rhyming skills that anyone in the class? Use them!
  • Ask for help.
    Don't be shy to show your finished masterpiece or raw material to your friend or someone who can help you with advice. Let them read it and give their opinion. That will significantly boost your writing skills. It would also be good to ask for professional editing help!

We hope that this article has helped you gain not only knowledge but also the confidence to write your sonnet! Bookmark our guide - it will come in handy for your English classes.

Thank you for reading, and good luck!

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