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How to Write: Week 14: Meter: Sunday (Technique)

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    Meter is how a line of poetry is paced syllabically.  The most common syllabic meter is probably iambic pentameter.  This means each meter of the lines are an ‘iamb’ syllable, a short syllable before a long one.  Penta- refers to five as in five sets of iambs per meter which is the line as a whole.  There are multiple types of meter definitions:
        U = Unstressed, S = Stressed
        Iam – Iambic – U, S
        Trochee – Trochaic – S, U
        Spondee – Spondaic – S, S
        Anapest – Anapestic – U, U, S
        Dactyl – Dactylic – S, U, U
        Amphibrach – Amphibrachic – U, S, U
        Pyrrhic – U, U

    Each individual iamb (trochee, spondee, etc) is a foot.  This count of meter varies as follows:
        Monometer – 1 foot
        Dimeter – 2 feet
        Trimeter – 3 feet
        Tetrameter – 4 feet
        Pentameter – 5 feet
        Hexameter – 6 feet
        Heptameter – 7 feet
        Octameter – 8 feet

    Meter helps keep rhythm to a piece, poem, prose, etc.  Many of Shakespeare’s plays were written in iambic pentameter.  His sonnets were also done with iambic pentameter as well as a distinct rhyme scheme.
    Meter is not a chain.  If you start in one meter it is definitely permissible to jump to another.  You might even only change the meter for one word in a line to throw off the reader or to signify a part which should be paid better attention to.
        Example: Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ is written mostly in iambic pentameter, but some sections change to trochaic.
    Meter might seem like a fancy technique to some, but don’t let that dissuade you if you are someone who is traditionally against ‘fancy’ things.  Meter might keep things ‘neat and tidy’ as far as rhythm goes, but it also leaves you with a good launching point to set your expression off from.

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Azriel Johnson is an inkspatter analyst by day and a serial writer by night. He runs a small, not money losing publishing press and a weekly open mic with monthly features called Writing Knights Press.

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