How to Write Shakespearean Sonnets

It's true that Shakespearean sonnets have comparatively more rules of rhyme and rhythm than your everyday free verse poetry, but it's easier than the Italian ones!


  1. 1
    Get the idea. Consider the subject matter of your poem and stick to one concept. Many traditional sonnets are about love and nature; you can follow this traditional approach or write about any idea you have. Sonnets also tend to state a problem, question, argument or observation, and the latter half or end of the poem brings clarification or a counterargument to the initial statement.
  2. 2
    Write in iambic pentameter. Using iambic pentameter without it sounding forced can be difficult. Read some sonnets first to get an idea of the meter and the musical nature of the rhythm. To start, write what comes out naturally, focusing on the rhyme scheme. Edit the lines later to put them in iambic pentameter. Consider monosyllabic words, which can be accented or unaccented, depending on their position in the phrase. You can break the meter, but meter breaks should relate to some important event or idea in the sonnet; this technique gives attention to that point in the sonnet
  3. 3
    Focus on the Turn
    • The most important part of a sonnet is the turn, or Volta. The turn answers the question, provides a counterargument, summarizes the rest of the poem or brings a surprise or clarification to the poem's opening idea. In Shakespeare’s sonnet “My Mistress’ Eyes,” the first 12 lines express how the speaker’s mistress does not look like the beautiful images he describes, but the final two lines admit his love is rare and incomparable. The Shakespearean sonnet places the turn in the final couplet, while the Petrarchan sonnet puts it around lines eight or nine, near the start of the sestet. Analyze some sonnets to get an idea of where to place the turn.
  4. 4
    Understand the rhyme scheme. A sonnet should follow the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG, where each letter refers to the last word of a line. Each letter must rhyme with the other letters, meaning lines 1&3, 2&4, 5&7 and so on rhyme. This can be much more challenging than writing a poem with rhymes in a row, since you must edit two lines back rather than 1, but it just takes time and talent.
  5. 5
    Remember each line must have ten syllables, weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-strong. This is called iambic pentameter. See the couplets in the tips for examples.
  6. 6
    Write a very strong GG rhyme to end it off with the rhyme you selected at the beginning. This is called a heroic couplet, a couplet in iambic pentameter


  • Read a lot of English sonnets. Shakespearean sonnets are named after Shakespeare because he is the most famous and most accomplished author of this form of poetry, but he is not the only one worth reading.
  • Write down your reactions to the sonnets. Think about the meter, rhyme scheme, subject, flow and anything else that catches your eye.
  • Read your poem aloud. This is a crucial step whenever you are writing poetry. Reading out loud to yourself will help you hear what parts sound good and what could use a revision.
  • Revise your Shakespearean poem. Feel free to use a Thesaurus to help find the perfect word.

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Categories: Merge | Poetry