Do they REALLY need 10 syllables per line? I wrote a poem with 3 quatrains and a couplet, similar to shakespeare's "shall I compare thee", but the syllable count varies per line. Is it still a sonnet?
No. About the 10-syllables, that is.
Sonnets in English (other languages have other 'rules') are poems that have a total of 14 lines, often (but not always) divided into two - an 8-line starter, and then the last 6 lines wind things up.
Because spoken English fits well with the iambic rhythm (daDah, daDAH, etc) and because many poets from before Shakespeare's time and since have written in iambic pentameter -( five daDAHs to a line), a lot of sonnets end up having 10 syllables in each line. But that's not necessary.
On the other hand, it's usually a good idea to have a regular pattern to the number of your stressed syllables (it's the stressed ones that count, not the total).
You remember the nonsense-poem:
There was a young man of Japan Whose verses never would scan. When they said, “But the thing Doesn’t go with a swing, He replied, “No, but I try to get as many words into the last line as I possibly can!”
ps - hope I was clear: sonnets have 14 lines, traditionally with rhyme and a regular rhythm - often iambic pentameter. But especially the rhyme schemes can vary enormously. That gives you flexibility within the set framework. OK?
Thank you, that is helpful. My english teacher doesn't know what she's talking about.