Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How To Write a Ballad

Today we are going to tackle ballads. At one point in history, ballads were a court, town, or village’s favorite form of entertainment. A balladeer would travel from place to place, singing his (almost always “his”) songs of love, intrigue, murder, danger and tragedy. You could think of him as a really popular reporter, who put his stories to song. As time went on, these songs evolved into poetry.

As far as rules go, ballads are fairly easy.

1. Rhyme scheme
The ballad’s rhyme scheme is abab or abcb.

2. Structure
The ballad is usually (but of course, not always) arranged in four-line stanzas.

3. Content
The subject matter is usually based on recent events, supernatural happenings, love stories….think of todays tabloids….juicy tales of love, passion, death, hauntings, political intrigues, conspiracies…that sort of thing. I would like to note, however, that despite the “rules,” you should write what you feel like writing. If you want to write a ballad about the peanut butter sandwich you had for lunch, go right ahead! (I suppose that could be considered “recent events,” if you want to be a stickler for the rules) :D Also, “regular” speech (popular terms and lingo, which will vary, naturally) is generally used in this form (see the example by Brandon Marquis at the end of this post).

4. Meter
In general, for a ballad, the first and third lines are iambic tetrameter and the second and fourth lines are iambic trimester. (For a definition chart, see my book So You Have to Write a Poem, info below)

In other words, the first and third lines should have eight syllables following an unstressed/stressed pattern, and the second and fourth lines should have six syllables, also following an unstressed/stressed pattern.

And there you have it…the ballad. These can be quite fun – my brother recently wrote one for his high school English class about Michael Phelps and his current troubles. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this, but it is an excellent example of a modern ballad.

The bad decisions that we make
Can follow us around.
Just ask the famous Michael Phelps
He’s always smoking down

He earned eight medals, solid gold,
He won them in a race.
But look at him, where is he now?
A terrible disgrace.

He was a hero for us all,
At least he used to be.
Now on Kellogs and the rest of them,
His face we’ll never see.

Though even fallen as he is,
I know he’ll pass the test,
And rise once more in victory
And beat all of the rest.

By Brandon Marquis

Well, this concludes poetry month. There are so many forms of poetry to explore, I’m sure a few will pop up every now and then. But for now, join me next Tuesday to learn how to write a research or term paper.

For more detailed examples and step-by-step instructions on how to write ballads and several other forms of poetry, check out my book, So You Have to Write a Poem!


Anonymous said...

Very cool...where were you when I took all those poetry classes??? My daughter read these posts also and loved them. She LOVES writing poetry.

Well done.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Oh, man, I am bummed that poetry month is over - it was really interesting to brush up on all this stuff that I had forgotten since high school.

Michelle McLean said...

Thanks Christine, and I'm so happy your daughter enjoys the posts! That is so cool :D

And Kate, never fear, I have a lot of How To weeks to fill up in a year :) I'm sure poetry will make a reappearance :D