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8 Practical Tips on How to Write an Authentic-sounding Ballad

How to Write a Ballad
Ballad is a popular poetic form, which is widely used all over. It began as a type of folk song that conveyed extravagant or romantic tales.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Oct 25, 2018
Tip
Set a rhyme scheme after you have written the first line. This will help you get a flow and structure in your ballad.
Ballads originated during the 6th and 7th century. It quickly became popular as a type of an elaborate storytelling in poetic form. Most ballads told epic stories that were passed on from generations to generations.
They helped bring and maintain tradition and value to everyday life of the young. They often had themes such as love lost or unrequited love or lives led by great heroes of generations that had passed. However, a ballad can be written on any theme of your liking.
Ballad is known for its simple rhyme scheme and words. It is often seen that there is a repetition of an entire stanza, which usually emphasized a point, to add drama, and for the readers or listeners to feel the intensity of the message.
Characteristics of a Ballad
❖ Lines are repeated in a ballad.
❖ Ballads have a 4-line stanza.
❖ The 1st and 3rd lines are for words that are stressed.
❖ The 2nd and 4th have three words that are stressed.
❖ The ballad follows the simplest rhythmic pattern.
❖ It narrates a story.
❖ It has a universal appeal.
❖ It revolves around a theme/ episode.
❖ It exhibits simple vocabulary.
❖ A ballad should include a dialog.
❖ It has an abrupt ending.
❖ It does not always have a moral base.
❖ Ballads do not have detailing.
Example of a Rhyme Scheme
Tam Lin ― Traditional Ballad recorded by James Child, 1729
Haud your tongue, ye auld fac'd knight,
Some ill death may ye dee!
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I'll father nane on thee.
Certain words in a set pattern of 4-3-4-3 are stressed. There are four words that are emphasized in the first and third row, whereas three on the second and forth row. Ballads often use an Iambic pentameter, where alternating words are stressed, which makes the poem go 'da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM'.
Also, notice the last words written in blue. They denote the rhyme pattern of A-B-C-B. Similarly, A-A-B-B, A-B-A-C, or even A-A-A-A can be adopted. But to begin with, try using an A-A-A-A rhyme scheme, and then gradually move on to different rhyme schemes.
Example of Repetition
Ballad of Birmingham ― Dudley Randall
"Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?"

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren't good for a little child."
"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free."

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir."
The highlighted parts of the poem are repeated, which is another important characteristic of a ballad. Repetition shows the urgency or intensity of those stanzas in the poem. It also adds on to the drama in the ballad.
How to Write a Ballad
Pick a Theme
Choose a theme that is relatable and universal; for example: stories of love, loss, death, disaster, scandal, events, relationships, etc. This will help you come up with words and to summon a rhyme. Tragic ballads, for example, speak of love, loss, etc.
It hits a chord on a personal level as the reader becomes more empathetic towards the content as well as the poet, thus, enjoying the literature thoroughly. If not empathetic, it also connects with the reader as (s)he is grateful for the lives that they lead.
Narrow Down to a Particular Episode
Narrow down your topic to an episode; for example, if you have chosen to write about love. Now, instead of speaking of love in general (if that is your topic), speak of love in a particular relationship. This will help you emphasize on the minutest details of your topic.
If it is about love between a couple, things such as how the better-half looks, the smell, the touch, the color of their eyes, skin and hair, the way they talk or laugh, how you feel when (s)he is with you, how you feel when (s)he walks away, etc., can be written about.
This will not only give you a lot of content to write and rhyme on, but also make this person come alive through your words, making the ballad effective.
Do Not Go Astray
In the flow of words, you might get carried away with unnecessary banter about the background of the topic. For instance, if you are writing a ballad about your love, don't go astray and talk about what the day was like when you first set your eyes on your beloved. Get to the point as this will keep you from distracting the reader from the main plot.
Captivating Start
It is understandable that the first line is always the hardest and the most important one. It not only gets the readers' attention but also sets the mood, while introducing the reader to the topic. But don't stress over it; just write the first line, to begin with, and if you are unhappy with the line, you can always change it or better yet, work around it.
Rhyme Scheme
If this is your first ballad or poem, try to keep it simple with A-A-A-A, A-A-B-B, A-B-A-B, or A-B-C-B format. Most traditional ballads use the A-A-B-(B/C) format.
Variation
There are occasions when it is not necessary to use the 3-4-3-4 verse in the chorus. This is where the rhyme is more important in the ballad rather than the stress.
Repetition
Repetition is another integral part of a ballad, be it a verse that is repeated in every few lines or two lines that are repeated in every few stanzas, etc. But the trick here is not to repeat the whole line in every stanza; use just a few words, leaving it in the same order. This keeps the readers captivated while increasing the drama in the ballad.
Closing
Once you are done writing the verses, you need to have an effective closing as well. Here, however, you need not stick to the same rhyme pattern of the ballad. You can choose to deviate a little from it.
Never erase out what you have written; improvise on a new piece of paper or write above the changed word or phrase with a pencil leaving the original word(s) intact. This will prevent you from diverting from your original topic.
Read your work the next day with a fresh mind and/or ask someone to read it out. Doing so will help you know where you have gone wrong or if you need to make any changes.