Before you start building, you need to select your first rhyme. Ordinarily I advise against forcing rhyme, but in this case, get it all out. Complex place names, Nantucket for instance, are common rhymes. Ending the first line with something tricky makes the readers wonder if you can rhyme it twice, making your final word intensely anticipated. “How is he going to pull this off?" they may be asking.
Write the last line first. Be sure it finishes with the snap you desire, then write backwards. Be sure you have two good rhymes for your last word. I usually suggest choosing easily rhymed words to give you the maximum number of options, but with a limerick, struggling to make the rhymes fit can be a good thing.
Brain-storm a page of rhymes. Dust off your rhyming dictionary. Sometimes a wacky trio of rhymes with dictate where the poem will go. If you ever feel the itch to play with goofy words, this is the time and place to scratch.
More than any other form, puns and other plays on words are welcome in the limerick world. Using homophones and homonyms, you can make your reader think you are using a word one way and then surprise them by using it another. Do you mean “bear" like the animal or the verb? Did you say “hose" like the watering device or “hoes" like the garden tools?
A flea and a fly in a flue
Were trapped and knew not what to do.
Said the fly, 'Let us flee.'
'Let us fly,' said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
Use all the alliteration you want. Use double entendre. The devices you choose may be the whole reason for writing the limerick. Normally I suggest that figures of speech subtly assist the greater meaning of your writing, but in this case wordplay itself may be your entire purpose.
With a form as prolific and goofy as the limerick, which seems to lampoon itself, parody is inevitable. You know what to expect from a limerick, so getting something else is a welcome surprise. You may vary the rhyme scheme, line length or rhythm to up-end your reader. Play off your audience's anticipation to catch them cross-footed.
There once was a man from the sticks
Who liked to compose limericks.
But he failed at the sport
For he wrote 'em too short.
Stay Out of Trouble
Those seven dirty words you're not supposed to say on TV or in school are so overused as to be meaningless. If you're going to say something, use original words. Choose them exactly how you want them for your purpose. To lean on worn-out terms like @#$% and &*^! is just plain lazy and no longer shocking to anyone. The human imagination has tuned them out. Better to lead your readers toward the pig-sty and let them fall in themselves. They will. They can't help it.
Good writing is about making the imagination go further than you do.
The writers who build them the best
Have control over what they suggest.
So when I say “ass"
I mean “mule who eats grass".
I can't stop you from thinking the rest.
- Write your favorite joke in the form of a limerick.
- Write a limerick based completely on alliteration and puns.
- Choose an awkward word and write as many rhymes for it as you can.
- By playing with the rhyme scheme, rhythm, line length or another limerick quality, write an anti-limerick.
- Write a limerick on a dark and serious topic.