The sonnet is the ultimate expression of love. You could buy roses or chocolate, but that’s like cheating. If you really mean business, you write a sonnet. Given its complex rhythm and rhyme scheme, just getting the form right shows a certain amount of dedication. Surely anyone who is willing to spend that much time on a poem deserves a chance!

So if you are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for love (in this case an hour or two of your time), here’s how you write a proper sonnet.

Rhyme Scheme

First you’ll need to pick the rhyme scheme. The most common forms are the Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets:
A Comparison of the Rhyme Schemes of the Shakespearean and Petrarchan Sonnets
As you can see, although every sonnet has 14 lines, the structure varies quite a bit. The Petrarchan sonnet is made up of two sections, with the octave (8 lines) describing some problem or tension, and the sestet (6 lines) providing a resolution. The poetic turn (or volta) refers to the change in direction, where the poet comes up with a creative and often surprising ending. The Shakespearean sonnet often has the poetic turn a little later, usually after all three quatrains (4 line stanzas) are finished.


Most sonnets are written in iambic pentameter. Let’s break that down a little. First, an iamb consists of two syllables, where the first is unstressed and the second stressed:

Just put five iambs together and you’ll have iambic pentameter (penta means five):

They always say that beauty is skin deep …

Of course, a rigid iambic meter can seem monotonous, and once you’ve mastered the technique you can play with the rhythm by introducing minor variations here and there.


The last thing you’ll need is some content. Although most sonnets are love poems, they don’t have to be romantic. Wordsworth wrote about his love for the city of London. Keats expressed his passionate affection for an English translation of Homer! And John Donne wrote Holy Sonnets to God. In other words, you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to write a sonnet.

Now, if you want to be traditional, you can write something like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. Note, by the way, how the poetic turn comes earlier than usual, starting with “But” in line 9:

Sonnet 18
By William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Of course promising immortality is a bit grandiose, especially since you can’t count on your sonnet being remembered for ever and ever. On a lighter note, then, here is a sonnet from the perspective of a three-toed sloth:

Sonnet from a Sloth

Don’t leave me hanging now, three-fingered sloth,
It’s been a while since you and I, you know,
Have had our leisure in the upper growth,
But we can start all over, nice and slow.

It’s not too late, my dear, to waste our time,
To get all comfy in the canopy,
Up where the restless jaguar does not climb,
Down where the keen-eyed eagle cannot see.

Their insolence won’t touch our somnolence,
We won’t be frazzled by their wings and spots,
We’ll sleep in utter peace and confidence,
Safe in the shadows from their shifty plots

So hang with me, and if you’re so inclined,
Please could you, maybe, scratch me from behind?

As you can see, sonnets don’t have too be serious or melodramatic. Have some fun and write something clever and witty.


Modern sonnet writers are often more relaxed about following all the rules. Some sonnets don’t even rhyme at all. That’s because the goal is to adopt a more conversational tone.

To achieve this effect, one common trick is to use enjambment, a term that describes a sentence that carries on without a pause right past the end of a poetic line. Here is an example:

I have been waiting thirty years to see

You single once again. I could have killed

Him had you said you wanted to be free,

But you said no, and so I never spilled

His worthless blood or made it hard for him. …

Another strategy is to use half rhymes (or slant rhymes):

You said “I don’t believe you have a soul,”
And so I lifted up my calloused foot,
But you gave me a push, I had a fall,
And now I’m dead, remembering our dispute. …

In this case “soul” and “fall” nearly rhyme, as do (to a lesser extent) “foot” and “dispute.” The effect is to make the poem less formal and more colloquial.

All of this is of course optional, and you should feel free to be as formal as you like. Just don’t use “thee” and “thou.”

Getting Started

Having a hard time getting started? Why not try some of our sonnet starters?

I saw your profile on the web last night …

I know you want to have a baby, dear …

My dear, I have just talked with your papa …

There’s nothing that I wouldn’t share with you …

Alright, we’re just kidding. We’re sure you can come up with something better. The main thing is to be clever and sincere, rather than flowery and gushy. That way you won’t have to be embarrassed when years later your kids discover your poetic efforts.

Famous Sonnets

Want to learn more about some of the famous sonnets ever written? Check out our tutorials of the following poems:


Creative Book Reviews


There are two types of book reviews. One is formal, academic, and perhaps somewhat stuffy. The other is creative, stylish, and popular. Here we’ll teach you how to write the second type. Even if you never get to write for the New York Times, you might still learn how to leave a stellar review on Amazon or Goodreads.



Reviews are not essays. You have plenty of freedom in how you structure your ideas. Sure, you’ll want to summarize and assess the book, but you don’t need a rigid thesis developed over the course of successive, closely connected paragraphs. Nor do you have to provide page numbers and citations when quoting from the book under review.

A review is more about sharing an experience. What is it like to read this book? Why would anyone bother? Think of yourself as persuading a close friend to adopt your point of view. Just be honest and direct. You can start by sharing your final thoughts or you can save them for the end. You can introduce side issues (level of realism, an interesting minor character, a powerful scene) before returning to your main point. A review is much more choppy and digressive than a regular essay.

However, a review should still have a certain “feel” to it. Strong reviewers create a consistent tone and style and provide an overall impression that ties together the somewhat eclectic observations made over the course of the review. In short, the structure of a review may be more organic, but the final result still feels coherent.


Good reviewers care about readers. Even if you personally know the author, you have a duty to say what’s on your mind. Of course tact is good, but you should never gloss over what you really think. Figure out quickly what your final verdict is (good, bad, or mixed) and then explain how you came to that conclusion.

Plot Summary

If you’re reviewing a novel, you should give some idea of the plot. However, you should do more than provide a bland summary of events. Try make an argument about why the narrative is interesting or compelling. For instance, if you were to review James Joyce’s Ulysses, you might reflect on whether the plot is as epic as the title implies:

Though modeled on Homer’s epic The Odyssey, Joyce’s Ulysses describes just one day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Nor are the events particularly impressive. Whether Bloom goes to the toilet, attends a funeral, or returns to Molly (his faithless Penelope), we feel that the classic hero no longer has a place in modern fiction.

So make a point about the plot. If it’s a murder mystery you might discuss who the suspects are, and whether it’s easy to follow the clues. If it’s a science fiction story you might frame your plot summary by comparing the story’s universe to today, or by assessing just how dystopian the events really are.

Whatever you do, though, think twice about sharing too many spoilers. Particularly if you’re recommending the book, you want to leave the reader with something to look forward to.


What can you talk about in a book review? Anything really, but here are some question you might answer:

  • What is the genre of the book?
  • Does the author convey a message, a worldview, an agenda?
  • Do you find the author’s point of view beautiful, racist, scary, persuasive, etc.?
  • How does the book relate to our culture, or to the past? Does it teach anything?
  • What is the intended audience?
  • How much of the book is fiction?
  • How does the book compare to other works of literature?

As you answer these questions, avoid being overly moralistic. Try not to simplify the book to some simple lesson (e.g., pride goes before the fall).

Quotable Quote

Always write your review so that it’s eminently quotable. Make sure you include a phrase or passage that captures your impression of the book in language that is dramatic and evocative. This is especially important if your assessment is generally favourable, for it’s possible the publisher may want to use an excerpt to promote the book.

Here are some examples of quotable quotes:

Stuart Little is much more than a children’s book: it is a profound reflection on the human quest for beauty and meaning, and Stuart’s comical attempts at heroism in the face of constant failure are both tragic and touching.

Blue at the Mizzen is our last voyage with Aubrey and Maturin, and it is a fitting farewell to arguably the greatest historical series ever written.

After I finished the The Sense of an Ending, I sincerely wished I had never begun.

Be aware, though, that people may quote your review out of context. Take, for example, the following blurb found on the back cover of the Canadian publication of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas:

“Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”

Now compare the actual paragraph from Tom Bissell’s review in the New York Times:

“It is a devious writer indeed who writes in such a way that the critic who finds himself unresponsive to the writer’s vision feels like a philistine. So let it be said that Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page. But ”Cloud Atlas” is the sort of book that makes ambition seem slightly suspect.”

Sometimes publishers have no scruples about quoting very selectively!

Being Personal

When reviewers become personal, it’s usually to make a point. Consider the opening to David Sexton’s scathing review of The Luminaries:

You know what it’s like when you find a book you really can’t put down? One that seems so urgent to stay with you carry on reading when you should be sleeping or working or remembering your Tube stop? A book that seems more compelling than life itself? Such a great feeling!

Well, Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning 832-pager, The Luminaries, is the opposite — in my experience, anyway.

I first tackled it in the summer, taking it on holiday. I was looking forward to getting into a really long book without pressure on my time. But I read about 150 pages and gave up in exasperation at its conceit and verbosity and got someone else to review it.

Sexton goes on to say that he gave the book a second try, only to find his first impressions confirmed. This self-conscious focus on the process of reading has its place in a review, but only if it relates to some larger argument. Otherwise we really don’t need to know how many pages you can read in a day.


Writing a book review is above all a creative act, so focus as much attention on style as on substance. In fact, if your writing style is witty and charming, people are more likely to accept your opinions.


Don’t think about what a review should “sound like.” Pick appropriate adjectives and avoid the following kinds of expressions:

life altering
earth shattering

None of these words are forbidden, but often a less hyperbolic variant will do (e.g. clever, ingeniousmasterful).


Good reviews use colourful metaphors and similes. Here’s a great example from a review of John Le Carré’s novel A Legacy of Spies:

Le Carré hauls out his greatest creation, the Yoda-like spymaster George Smiley, a cameo appearance, as if he were taking a ’60s-era Lamborghini long kept in the garage –Smiley’s last appearance was 27 years ago, in ‘The Secret Pilgrim’–for a jaunty Sunday spin.”

Even though the reviewer mixes Star Wars with James Bond, the language is colourful and appropriate. By contrast, you want to avoid clichés such as the following:

edge of your seat
page turner
roller coaster of emotions

Try use metaphors and analogies that are fresh and clever without being bizarre or confusing.


In a book review you can use a conversational tone. A good test is to read your review out loud and see if it sounds natural. Another strategy is to vary your sentence length. Good reviewers create drama by inserting a number of short, snappy sentences. So don’t be overly personal, but do write with personality.

More Tips

  • Avoid long quotations
  • Connect your paragraphs through subtle, clever transitions.
  • Avoid cumbersome phrases like “I will argue” or “In conclusion”
  • Use a creative title that relates closely to the point you make in your review


While sometimes a scathing review is called for, don’t waste people’s time nitpicking over tiny details. Alexander Pope once described a good reviewer as someone who reads with generosity and understanding: “A perfect judge will read each work of wit / With the same spirit that its author writ.” That’s a tall task, but it’s one worth striving for.


Ready to get started? Download our Review Template.

Works Cited

Bissell, Tom. “History is a Nightmare.” Review of Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. New York Times, 29 Aug. 2004.

Garner, Dwight. “George Smiley and Other Old Friends Return in John Le Carré’s ‘A Legacy of Spies.'” New York Times, 28 Aug. 2017.