So why use the sonnet form?
- it's elegantly self-contained
- when it works, it's beautiful
- it restrains high emotion well
- it allows you to accumulate meaning, then disrupt that at the end, either in the volta or the rhyming couplet at the end
A website I highly recommend is Annie Neugebauer's, with excellent practical and detailed advice on the preparation, drafting and editing processes.
She advises that you begin with an idea that's as original as possible, then free-write about that idea. Once you've finished a paragraph (or, perhaps a page, I'd suggest),then find easily rhyme-able words to lay out in a rhyme scheme. A great reminder Neugebauer gives is to make sure that your last syllable be a "hard" or "stressed" syllable.
You may want to watch some videos on YouTube to remind yourself about iambic pentameter.
Your rhyme scheme will depend on the kind of sonnet you're going to write - Shakespearean or Petrarchan. Or you may want to experiment a little.
At its most basic, a sonnet has fourteen lines. How you divide up these lines will provide the structure and movement of your poem, for example: three quatrains and a couplet (Shakespearean), or an octave and a sextet (Petrarchan).
It's worth having a look at some examples to see how their rhyme schemes and lines and stanzas are arranged (as well as to get a feel for iambic pentametre). I recommend comparing Shelley's Ozymandias, Wallace Stevens' The Snow Man, and Wilfred Owen's The Unreturning - just as a starting point.
- consider using the structure of an argument: two sides and a twist,
- or thesis, antithesis and resolution
- A complete thought on a topic: consider a theme, an emotion, a colour - and tie it in to something specific: a memory, a place, a person, event or episode
- Sonnets are traditionally about love, so consider subverting this by writing about a guilty pleasure or something you love to hate
- pose a question
- an observation