How to Write Humorous Limericks That Work

Limerick with smiling lizard inspecting his stumpy tail.
Writing any poem with rhythm can be a real challenge but writing a limerick which has a couple of very short lines that rhyme, can be downright frustrating. I know because I’ve had to battle with this challenge many times while writing 101 limericks in a year.

So how do you go about writing a limerick? Where do you start? How do you come up with a rhyming pattern? Most of all, how do you get the rhythm right?

Following are my tips on how to write a limerick in 6 or 7 simple steps.

  1. Choose a subject with something humorous about it.
    For the Sunbaking Lizard, I had recently seen a lizard with a stumpy tail and knew it would normally have a long skinny tail. I wondered how I would feel if I had to shed a tail to escape a swooping bird intent on having me for dinner! Not exactly funny but thinking of the lucky escape for the price of a tail made me smile.
  2. Use the rhythm pattern to write the first line.
    Remember the rhythm patter is: Da–dah–da-da-dah-da-da-dah.
    I originally chose
    A sun-bak-ing liz-ard one day.
  3. Use the same rhythm pattern for the second line BUT make sure it ends with a word that rhymes with the last word of the first line. For example,
    A-void-ed be-com-ing a prey
    This works because day and prey rhyme (same sound even though they are spelled differently.)
  4. Brainstorm some more rhyming words for the end of the fifth line which rhymes with lines 1 and 2.
    To do this I will sometimes go through the alphabet thinking of all the consonants that go with the vowel sound to make a word: e.g. bay, hay, lay, may, pay, ray, say, w I might also think of blends such as stay, stray, grey, prey, fray, or even a-way, de-lay, dis-may.
  5. Write the fifth line now using the same rhythm pattern as for lines 1 and 2 IF a suitable ending comes to mind. Otherwise go to the next step. A suitable ending for our example might be:
    As the bird with his tail flew a-way. This doesn’t work so well because it’s not clear if the tail belongs to the bird or the lizard. I couldn’t come up with a line that I liked so I decided to start again rewriting the first and second lines – back to Steps 2 and 3!.
  6. Use the shorter rhythm pattern to write the third and fourth lines making sure they rhyme with one another (not with lines 1, 2 and 5).
    The rhythm pattern is: Da–dah–da-da-dah,
    This is easy if you have a pair of rhyming words, just make sure they continue to tell the story.
  7. Write the final line now if you didn’t write it at Step 5. Use Step 5. Instructions.

Now all you need to do is read your limerick aloud to make sure that the rhythm sounds right, the rhyming pattern is in place and it all makes sense!

If it is not quite right the first time, you may only have to swap a couple of words or choose a new word in a line. Occasionally you may decide to put it away for a while and come back to it. It is amazing how our brains work when we are not trying to make them think, and new ideas just pop into our head.

In case the image at the top of this article isn’t clearly visible, here is my final version:

Sunbaking Lizard

Sunbaking one day on a rock,
A lizard was in for a shock,
A bird hunting prey,
Whisked his tail clear away!
Poor stumpy is still taking stock. (Author: Marilyn Humphries)

It’s your turn to write one now, and you don’t need to stop at one. It’s easy to get hooked on writing limericks.

For lots of limericks to read and enjoy or to study for ideas, look out for the release of my new book 101 Lively Limericks to Make You Smile.

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