Rhyming poetry has a long and storied history, from the ancient Greek verse of Homer and Sappho that followed strict metrical rules, to the modern poetry of the English language. Rhyming poetry is a particular challenge because it requires not only mastery of the language, but also a sensitivity to words that sound alike. The good news is that rhyming poetry need not be complicated to be good. In fact, the most effective works of rhyming poetry are usually those that incorporate rhyme for the sake of rhyme alone. Rhyming poetry can be fun and easy to write, and can provide a great way to hone your writing skills. The following guide will help you learn how to write a rhyming poem.
Write about what you know
Most professional writers will tell you that writing what you know provides better, more honest material to work with. While that is certainly true, there is also plenty of room for playing with structure and genre, as long as you do not veer into the unknown. To write a rhyming poem that speaks to an audience, make sure you can write about topics and settings that are familiar to you, such as emotions, experiences, and places you’ve been. Try writing a simple description of your life and observe how words, emotions, and ideas appear to be pulled up by the flow. Based on this, you could begin to imagine a narrative poem about two characters who experience similar emotional struggles.
Allow yourself to anchor your imagination with knowing, relatable details so that the reader doesn’t feel disjointed by your writing. Try to draw from a wide palette by reading varied media. You don’t have to become aware of everything just yet, but pay attention to how other writers convey color and contrast. There is always more than one method!
Once you’ve read enough, start writing your own. Now that you’ve chosen a style and a setting, try to develop your characters and a plot. Even if they will not make it to the ending of the poem, these concepts will help you imagine the project. Bear in mind that anything that happens in a fantasy rhyming poem cannot have an aspect of true reality to it, so practicing your own professional detachment is essential. You have to stay in the imaginative space even when you’re writing something familiar to your own experience.
Create specific details
Create concrete images that your readers can see, feel, and hear. The best way to access details is to start from your own personal experience. If you don’t have any good personal experiences to draw from, you can always make up details. Another fascinating way to create specific details is to weave in historical information — if you’re writing a poem about a famous historical character, you could enhance the poem by describing every aspect of their life.
Once you understand where to go for your poem’s specific details, use them. Much of the horror in Edgar Allan Poe’s writing comes from his awesome specificity with extremely broad imagery, and remembering that it’s written from the eyes of an unreliable narrator. Make sure every line has a concrete detail in it, and don’t worry about including every one of your details — you don’t need to bang them like nails, and you probably shouldn’t reference everything all at one. Another benefit to creating specific-seeming details is that it fills out your poem’s sense of space. The steady, repeated rhythm of the beats and the big picture questions of the larger narrative can pull the reader in and figure out your rhythm. By making the details sparse enough that they kind of just come together into an eye-feast, you’re creating an evocative space to move around inside of.
Decide on a rhyme scheme and vowel sounds
Before you can put pen to paper, think about which kind of rhyme scheme you’d like your poem to follow. Many rhyming poems use the “abab” or “abcb” pattern. This is better known as a “falling” or “cupped” rhyme, where each verse is a variation on a similar statement. Consider, likewise, the full vowel sounds that will allow you to write your rhyming lines. If your poem uses alliteration or internal rhyme, for example, -ser, -dis, -ver, and -sive rhymes will be important. If you want each stanza to follow the same vowel sounds for each line, such as Bibi, Bibee, Bibby, Bibby for each of the last four lines of your poem, you should choose vowel sounds that work in all three syllables — in this case, the right sounds for a modern rhyme are “i,” “u,” “ah,” “aw” and “oo.”
Try several variations
Decide whether a particular rhyme scheme seems natural for your poem or not. Then, brainstorm lines and phrases about the phrase or theme you’ve chosen — or, if you’re more experienced, write actual verses with varying rhyme schemes. Never stop editing and revising, and never fret about failing, because every poem, every line and thought, is a way for you to get closer to a clearer image of your subject.
Writing a rhyming poem means delivering a pleasurable experience, and if it isn’t fun yet, don’t force it! Instead, shelve your poem so that you can revisit it after several days spent mulling over and revising your verses. When you come back to the poem, try to honestly answer whether or not your work improves around every turn. If it does, follow your intuition and write more verses with this rhyme scheme. If it doesn’t, set your verse aside, wait again, and then try another rhyme. At the end of the process, you’ll have the first draft of a strong poem that rhymes.
Your first instinct is probably to wait until the entire poem is complete and polished, but your sensitivity will increase over time, as you spend more time immersed in the details than a cursory reader will. Start asking yourself more questions — does every word serve the greater theme of the piece, or is there padding? Are you leaving room for your reader’s imagination, or being too explicative? Are you overwriting the background details and cluttering the foreground of the scene, so that your point becomes difficult to identify? As an author, if you’re able to identify these issues, you’re very likely to catch them in your drafts and be able to revise more successfully.
Prosody is all of the rhetorical techniques that poets use to create a sense of rhythm in their poems. These include measures like line breaks, enjambment, and stanza margins. Used well, these devices can help organize and elevate your poem’s tone. If you’re writing a longer poem, like a sonnet, these techniques will help you determine where the important lines fall, so that your poem doesn’t drag in the middle. Even in short rhyming poems, you can emphasize the final or most important phrase by giving it its own rhyme or rhythmic pattern, making the poem more memorable.
Get to know poetry basics and when to throw them out
Rhyming poetry is different from non-rhyming poetry in the way it uses devices like meter, line length, and rhyme scheme, but it also follows different rules for effect. Because they are focused less on meaning and more on form, poets in any era have thrown out conventions like rhyme for ironic ends, or irreverently used sonnet form to write a playful laundry list. More often than not, breaking these conventions of meaning and form leaves the poem unfocused and uninteresting. Not every rhyming poem has to have a deep message, but it does need to have one or two, which makes these poems best suited for subjects like an epiphany, an observation, a political statement, or an emotion. And best of all, you can practice writing one and still create a poem that doesn’t rhyme — or one that morphs unexpectedly from rhyme to unrhymed. Poetry may be a jealous mistress, but she’s also an expert collaborator, and she can help you write the poem you want to write.
Read it out loud often
Many poets wouldn’t even call their work poetry if it weren’t for internal rhyme, so it’s never a bad idea to get into the habit of reading out loud. However, with rhymes, you should never stop at sight reading. Rap is probably the closest form to poetry most of us come across every day — but someone who’s never read a rhyming poem before would be surprised by how often light syllables sneak into the normal rhythm of conversation, by speakers even unaware of doing it. This means you can be confident of misreading a rhyme on more than one occasion. Short but regular readings aloud may be a chore to some, but hearing your own writing is critical to making sure it reads right to most readers.
Remember, when it comes to poetry, the sound of the poem — the way the words, syllables, and even phonemes flow off the tongue to convey the writer’s intent in a sonic feedback loop — is absolutely as important as the words on the page.
Write like you talk
When most people write, their writing has a pace that doesn’t necessarily reflect their speech. Learning about how to write a rhyming poem can begin with examining the rhythms of what you say. There are no right or wrong ways to do this, but it can be helpful to take a sentence and read it out loud in both prose and in iambic pentameter. Listen to how your speech marks pauses and stresses different words. Find where your stress is most natural. Depending on your genre, you may find it easier to write formal free verse or more traditional rhythmical verse.
While you’re learning about your speech rhythms, experiment with how your voice can help convey meaning, rather than the other way around. Your poems don’t need to mean the same thing in prose and verse or even communicate the same idea to readers. Take a poem you like and rewrite it as if you were speaking it to someone, or even just speaking the lines aloud. Now rewrite it using different lines as a response to matching lines from the first version. You’ll find that the meaning you communicate changes depending on what lines you choose to repeat.
Many beginning poets try too hard to impose a structure on a poem, only to find their lines limping and lifeless. If you still feel this pressure, remember that this is supposed to be fun. You want to start free, at a word-lullaby pace, so that each step along the way increases your speed and dexterity, until you find yourself racing to the finish line. Try writing shorter sentences, or sentences that transition back and forth between the present and past tenses. Use more semicolons and fewer commas, or fewer nouns and more adjectives. If your subconscious can easily produce a stream of language and your fingers are deft on the keyboard, then you’re ready to do the next thing.
Create line breaks that are overly dainty, formal, or non-nonsensical. For a dainty line break, take a normal line, and insert punctuation at the precise place where the resulting bits seem too delicate to bear the weight of a full sentence — preferably doubling up or eschewing periods like a colon or semicolon. If you’re feeling poetically formal, try using words you wouldn’t normally use as prose in your poems, such as “beauty auspicium que”. If you’re feeling silly, try writing a few lines, and then crossing out every letter in the line until the word you want is revealed. This will allow you to write some entertaining nonsense, which is sure to make poetry a less solemn occupation.
Write a rhyming poem
Remember, writing a poem with rhyming components doesn’t mean you have to sell the rhythm argument to your reader. Rhyme is one tool you can use to express an idea, but it’s actually just one tool out of many. Even though the idea of rhyming poems may be intimidating, as long as you have a story that you need to tell, and you’ve prepared yourself with the right framework, you’ll find that constructing your poem is not too difficult — after you’ve developed a bit of practice.
Ultimately, what’s most important is that the message gets across. So try all of the approaches and styles to find what works best for you — in the end, it just matters that you’ve encoded your message into this unique and exciting medium. After all that work, you deserve to stop and appreciate your creation. Break out the champagne, and toast yourself — you’ve got something wonderful to show for it.
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