Why Every Writer Needs a BOB File

Most, if not all, writers keep a file of story ideas.But what about all those little ideas that aren’t plots or story hooks? This is where the Bits of Business (BOB) File comes in.

The bits of business in your BOB File are too small to be the centerpiece of a story. Rather, they are interesting details that might make some future story more interesting, entertaining, vivid, or true-to-life. A BOB File can include any story detail that pops into your head and feels worth saving, things like:

  • Dialog – Jokes, arguments, secret confessions
  • Names – Characters, restaurants, stores, scifi gadgets
  • Descriptions – A character’s appearance or mannerisms, interesting objects, the physical environment
  • Locations – Interesting towns, weird-looking buildings, places that give you the creeps
  • Objects – Fun gadgets, interesting tools, character-defining personal possessions
  • Foundations – The larger meaning behind a plot, character motivations, subtext, metaphors

If you are working on a story and struggling to come up with a character’s name, appearance, or other details, you can search your BOB File for something to use, even if it’s just a temporary placeholder. Having a collection of story details at the ready will help you avoid getting stuck and wasting valuable writing time.

How do you organize a BOB File? You could create separate sections with a heading for each idea category, but as ideas will be added at random whenever they occur to you, separate sections may be difficult to maintain. An easier alternative is a tag system.

If you are using a digital BOB File, you can tag each idea by adding categories in brackets. For example:

  • Captain Awesomesauce [name]
  • Her skirt flapped in the breeze like a flag struggling to escape its pole [description]
  • They say only the good die young, but what about people who never die? [dialog]

You can use CTRL+F to quickly flip through all the names, mannerisms, lines of dialog, etc, without having to bother with organizing ideas by section.

If you are using a paper BOB File, you can dedicate the first page to writing down a color-coded list of all your tags. As you write down ideas, you can mark each page with the appropriate color with stick-on markers. Depending on the brand, these may be called page flags, tags, tabs, and so on. You can also write down the ideas with different-colored markers or pencils, making it easy to flip through the pages and find ideas at a glance.

However you organize them, BOB Files are valuable tools that will sharpen your writing skills. Keeping a BOB File will train you to be a better observer. Whenever you’re in public, listen for interesting turns of phrase. Watch the way people stand, how they move their hands, the way they look at each other. Keep an eye out for all the fun, exciting, and unusual bits of real life, and be ready to capture them on the page and save them for later. Like meditation, this habit will help you be more aware of your surroundings, and more present in the moment. Your dialog and characters will feel more real, because you will be spending more time in reality and less time lost in your head.

Keeping a BOB File will also make you a more productive writer, and help you get into the habit of writing every day. The larger the task, the more difficult it can be to find the will and motivation to do it. Anyone can come up with excuses to not write when the task is a ten-page story. I don’t have the time! I’m too tired! I have too many chores that need done! I’ll write as soon as I’m done washing the lawn, mowing the dog, and walking the dishes. However, it’s much harder to find an excuse not to write when the task is just adding to your BOB File. Writing down that joke you thought of will hardly take any time or effort at all. And maybe, by the time you’re done writing it, you will find yourself in the zone, ready and eager to tackle a bigger project. Once you’re in the habit of writing every day, you can slowly increase the amount of writing you do, and watch your page count grow!

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