8 Ways to ripen Your Stories

8 Reasons to Let Your Stories Ripen

8 Ways to Ripen Your Stories PinterestWhenever you come up with a wonderful new story idea, it can be tempting to immediately sit down at the keyboard and start bringing it to life on the page. But that’s not always the best way to turn that sparkling new idea into a worthwhile and enduring story.

In his book How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Orson Scott Card admits:

Good stories don’t come from trying to write a story the moment I think of the first idea. [A]ll the stories I was still proud of six months after writing them have come from ideas that ripened for many months—usually years—between the time I first thought of them and the time they were ready to put into a story.

The 8 Pitfalls of Unripe Stories

Like ripening fruit, stories require the slow nourishment of sunlight and warm imaginative soil to grow into rosy, juicy maturity. Otherwise, they risk suffering the blight of the following pitfalls:

1. Meandering plot.

2. One-dimensional characters.

3. Shallow themes.

4. Underdeveloped/nonexistent subplots.

5. Weak Climax.

Writing up sparkly new ideas is like falling in love at first sight and getting married the next day. You might live happily ever after. But chances are good that, after a little more time has passed, you’ll realize you really don’t know this story so well at all. In fact, at times, it will feel like a total stranger, and you’ll begin wondering what in tarnation you’ve gotten yourself into.

It takes time and breathing space to figure out which ideas are worth committing to for the long haul.

I’ve fallen in love at first sight with many ideas that eventually proved they didn’t have the depth or staying power to support a long-term relationship.

Stories aren’t the only victims when you pull them off the vine before they’ve ripened. You suffer as well by:

1. Losing passion for a story

2. Realizing you’ve wasted our time

3. Developing the bad habit of skipping from one new idea to the next without ever finishing a draft

Figuring Out How Best to Ripen Your Stories

For me, putting a story on paper too soon—even in the roughest of outlines—risks ruining the heady organic ebb and flow of my imagination.

I prefer to leave my ideas in the greenhouse of my subconscious, pulling them out and pruning them from time to time, until I feel they’re ready. Margaret Atwood once said:

You may be wrong about being ready, but you’re rarely wrong about being not ready.

However, if this feels all wrong to you on a gut level, don’t be afraid of acknowledging that your initial ramblings on paper may indeed constitute a ripening period of your own.

Orson Scott Card again:

For some writers, one of the best ways to help an idea ripen is to try writing a draft of it, seeing what comes up when you actually try to make it into a story. As long as you recognize that the draft you write immediately after thinking of the idea will almost certainly have to be thrown away and rewritten from the beginning, you’ll be fine.

Either way, don’t be in a hurry to write down that brand new idea. Let it ripen into the full, mature flavor you’ll be able to reap a year or so into the growing season.

Wordplaers, tell me your opinion! Which ripening method do you prefer? Do you let your stories ripen in your subconscious? Or do you need to work them out on paper? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. @Kathi: Knowing how a story will end is always important for me. If I don’t have an ending, I don’t have a story. And yet, ironically, my endings on paper never turn out quite how I think they will.

    • Peter Hill says

      This is perfect! Thank you so much, Katie!

      I love the second quote from Orson Scott Cards. I don’t think I was as ready as I thought I’d be.

      I’ve had an idea for a novel based on Greek mythology for a while now, and whilst it hooked me (the premise) this first draft’s pacing is really putting me off. I’m not so disheartened now, as I’ve given my book a good look through and know what issue(s) to tackle on the second draft.

      Thanks for posting, Katie. 🙂

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        If you know the right questions to ask about a story problem, the answers are always easy to find. 🙂

  2. Great post!

  3. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

  4. Shew! I’m so relieved to read this… Primarily b/c I’ve got TWO really interesting stories partially complete (with lots of notes holding them in place) and I haven’t had the chance to get back to them.

    AND I’ve been fretting for fear I’d “lose” them somehow. Nice to think of them as ripening. 😀 Thanks, girl~ <3

  5. It’s amazing what our subconscious can accomplish, even if it’s just overnight. Plot holes we thought were insurmountable, suddenly melt into pinpricks. So you can imagine how much work your subconscious will be able to accomplish over longer periods of time!

  6. I have a double level of story ripening, I guess: I use a pad and paper to scribble down my thoughts, then wait a while as I fill in details and scratch out “bad” ideas. My imagination begins to stretch the scene out and explore different routes as I gradually run out of space to add anything within the scene. Then I know it’s time to type it up. After that, I sit on it some more–sometimes for months–before I look at what I’ve written. Both levels sharpen my story and my perception of it as “ready” or “not ready.”

    Thanks for posting–it’s good to put a name to it, and to hear everyone else’s techniques.

  7. Your ripening period sounds very thorough. In general, all mine involves is a very strong visual sense of key scenes. Then, when I feel they’re ready, I pull out a notebook and start figuring how to connect the dots between those already-visualized scenes.

  8. I keep my stories in my head while they ripen, but I let them ooze out on to paper in the form of doodles, lists, and unorganized outlines. Works for me. 🙂

  9. Usually, I let things ripen in my head. When I get to the point of bursting with thoughts about a story or set of characters, that’s when I start putting things down on paper–either in an outline, or, more often, the story itself.

    Though, I’m starting to become an outline kind of gal. 🙂

  10. @vv: “Creative oozing” – I like that!

    @Liberty: Finally seeing the wisdom of joining us over here on the dark side, huh? (We do have cookies after all!)

  11. When I come up with an idea, the first week is the most productive. I burst with so many ideas that I can’t sleep, and I scribble things down madly. Once things come to a boil, I calm down and write slower and it gets to a simmer. It would be awful if I lost that first week just because I thought I needed to let the idea sit in my head for a while.

    On the other hand, I’ve noticed that time is the best way of weeding out my bad ideas from the good ones. I might come up with ten ideas a year, but if at the end of the year I’m thinking of a particular one more than the others, that’s the one I write.

  12. The first week is definitely a productive one for me too. But I have to confine the busyness to my imagination. I find that if I take a delicate new idea and try to write it down right away, I end up stunting its growth by imprisoning it within my words. I have to let it grow and develop some solid roots before I try to capture it.

  13. I keep taking notes, from non-fiction books, blogs and just about anything. Everywhere, I find wells of ideas. But the issue always come when I actually start to write them. The premature drag to perfection.
    But there are kinds of ideas. One of my idea bloomed just during normal routine brainstorming and is suddenly on its way to first draft. Another is ripening in my mind from almost 7 years now.
    My goal is to make that my next WIP, but who knows?

  14. I write out the basic character and structure plot points (thanks Katie). Then I fill out the structure. Then, scene by scene, I make tons of notes (thanks document notes section of Scrivener app); I want my scenes truly envisioned (I can’t write if I can’t envision the setting and action). Then, scene by scene, I write as long a synopsis as I need, moving anything around that needs it, adding in new ideas, doing whatever comes to mind, as I see the big picture. By now I’m ready to sit back and enjoy watching the story flow as I write, with the occasional character doing his/her own thing, lol. I guess all this is to say, I write in order to ripen the idea. Maybe occasionally over-ripen.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Your process sounds a lot like mine. I start really broad and then slowly, piece by piece, refine it more and more until finally we have the full-blown narrative for the first draft.

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