Friday, May 13, 2011

A Word About Limericks - The Basics

I had a blast writing that first volume of limericks, based on Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It might not be a literary gem on par with Dickinson or Frost, or even Silverstein for that matter, but I'm happy with my first effort. One of the benefits of tackling a huge project like limerickizing Star Wars is that now I have five more movies to improve on my writing.

6,748 words, 210 stanzas, and 35 blog entries later, I think it is time to learn how to write a limerick. (I've just been winging it so far.) From my experiences and lessons learned over the past month, I've put together a series of posts to discuss the topic of writing limericks. You might already know the basics, but just in case, in this first post of the series, let me back up a bit...

1. A limerick stanza consists of five lines: Two long, two short, and one long. Example:

2. A-A-B-B-A Rhyming scheme: Lines 1,2 and 5 rhyme and lines 3 and 4 rhyme. Example:

3. Humor: Limericks are ordinarily humorous. We see this achieved in various ways.

  • Vocabulary - Your choice of words can add humor to your limerick. Some words are intrinsically funny, like 'turkey' or 'fanny'. Other words are humorous because they are obscure or seem out of place. (See my other blog 'Rephrazer' for hundreds of examples of this.) Some words are funny because they are nonsense or made up. You will see this often in limericks when the writer has written himself into a corner and can't find any other words that rhyme. In that case, creating a word that "sounds" right or has a little creative spelling involved can save your hide. Here's a helpful tip: as a general rule, don't end your first line with the word 'hippopotamus'...
  • A twist at the end - If you leave your reader with something unexpected, you can often get a chuckle, even if the subject isn't very funny. Suppose your first four lines are describing  a rough, tough macho man...if your last line is about him picking a flower, or holding a baby or sewing a dress, your readers will say, "HA! I didn't see that coming."
  • Subject - It is the opinion of some that limericks need to be ribald and coarse. Much of the limerick poetry you find online does fall into that category. It's my opinion that it takes more skill and effort to write a clean limerick. Think about the last time you laughed so hard you had tears rolling down your cheeks. Was it about something vulgar? I'm willing to bet that most often times it was not.  
I'll discuss a lot of this in greater detail in subsequent articles, but these are the basic components of a limerick

If you are interested in writing limericks (or any type of poetry) and like receiving feedback to help you get better, I recommend a site called Poetry Soup. There's hundreds of writers in that community, some are very experienced and can provide you with helpful tips to improve your writing. You can sign up for a free membership that allows you to post poems, comment on other's poems and enter your poetry in contests.

Next Word About Limericks - The Anapest

No comments:

Post a Comment