Create a Strong Structure to Support Your Blogged Book

give your book structure with a table of contentsHow to Blog a Better Book: Lesson #6

Before you can turn an idea into a book you must give that book a structure. This structure, known as the Table of Contents, supports your idea much like a human spine supports the body. Later, you put “flesh on the bone” when you determine the content you will include in each chapter. The Table of Contents (TOC) also provides a road map to help you write your book.

Giving Your Idea Shape

Actually just a list of all the chapters you plan to include in your book, think of the TOC this way: It gives your idea shape and form and holds it up. If the table of contents isn’t strong, the book will be crooked, bent or unable to stand. If your TOC lacks focus or doesn’t support your story, your chapters will leave you with an amorphous manuscript. That’s why you must examine your TOC to see if your book has a strong form that  carries out your idea logically. Additionally, look at the list of chapters to see if your content or story promises to have substance and will provide benefit to readers as well as be unique and compelling.

Nonfiction writers will find the TOC helpful for evaluating if they have developed a good book structure. Such books often have chapters descriptive of their content. However, if a novelist goes to the trouble of creating chapter titles that allow readers to glimpse the story line the TOC can provide the useful evaluation tool.

Remember: Many readers go into bookstores or use the online bookstore “Look Inside” feature to review a book’s table of contents. From this, they determine if the book appeals to them and if it contains the information they need or want or if it will tell a story they want to read. Knowing this, you can evaluate your TOC through their eyes. Or, better yet, imagine how a literary agent or acquisitions editor might view your TOC. Would it look like the makings of a viable book?

“Charting” Your Book’s Course

“Table of contents” sounds a bit like a “chart of contents” to me. Rather than the type of chart that contains numbers or statistics—otherwise known as a “table”—I consider it a map that helps you understand where your book is going. As such, it provides a view of the beginning, middle and end of the journey on which you plan to take a reader. You create the TOC to chart how you will write your book—and how people will travel through it when they read it. It’s easy to see with even mildly trained eyes if you’ve actually charted out a reasonable and effective path to get to your destination. Evaluate your book’s TOC to determine if you have charted your idea from start to finish, if you’ve created a map that you and readers can follow to easily and clearly get from Point A to Point B without getting lost.

How to Create a Table of Contents for Your blogged Book

You can create your TOC any number of ways. Here are 10 suggestions:

  1. Brainstorm 10-15 topics to discuss
  2. Determine 10-15 questions to answer or problems to answer
  3. Pinpoint the primary scenes in your story line or plot
  4. Create a timeline of events and then organize them logically
  5. Identify 10-15 benefits to highlight
  6. Profile your characters and organize chapters around them
  7.  Mind map all the possible topics you might write about and then organize them into chapters
  8. Consider how the themes of your novel play out on a story line and then organize them into chapters
  9. Find the dramatic arcs in your novel
  10. Create a story board and then organize it into logical breaking points

Once you have a list of chapters you want to include in your book, assess if they are organized in an order that makes sense to the telling or your story or the explaining of your concept. Look at your table of contents to be sure it targets your market, benefits your readers and is unique. (See Lessons #1-5 in this series.)

Plenty of room exists for creativity, but if your book idea is not held up by its TOC, it might collapse or your message will take a meandering path and never get you (or your readers) to your intended destination. In other words, you’ll have a difficult time writing a successful book. That’s why you must give your book structure.

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  1. says

    From my much dog-eared paperback copy of Busman’s Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers) – all I have to do is look at the table of contents, and read the first few lines, to settle happily into a beloved story (it took her 4 or 5 novels to feed readers the background love story that makes this mystery series unforgettable):

    I. New-wedded Lord
    II. Goosefeather Bed
    III. Jordan River

    Twenty chapters, followed by a wrapup of three more.

    It fits neatly on the single page – a perfect ToC.

    When I compare this to the mess in the beginning of so many ebooks, a nightmare of navigation, I remind myself to be very careful with what I put out when I get to this point.

    To a small extent, because ebooks remember where you were, the navigation isn’t necessary. But I don’t just read a book sequentially, starting where I left off. I actually use the ToC in books to skip around, go back and look for something, check out the end (to see if there’s any possibility of redemption for a particular book which has set off the throw-against-the-wall detector).

    My ‘stats’ for Amazon are thus contaminated – unless they keep information about my whole reading pattern, they aren’t catching how much of a book I actually read.

    For non-fiction, writing books especially, I long for the ease of navigation of paper. I have the kind of memory that remembers something was ‘on the right hand page, at the bottom, and finishes the paragraph on the next page.’ That doesn’t exist for ebooks – I’m having to retrain myself to leave digital footprints as I read, or to search by a word.

    So having a decent, well thought out ToC, preferably on a single page (a problem when I blow the font size up to read without glasses) is something I look for. I give a mental quality checkmark to writers who do a competent job of it.

    And I use this format, with a title for each Chapter, in the Table of Contents for the novel I’m serializing on my blog.

    Now I’m going to have to think seriously about whether my chapter titles are too long – I use a short quotation, real or created for the purpose – and I aim for Sayers’ perfect ‘New-wedded Lord.’
    ABE recently posted..Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 3, Scene 1

  2. Nina Amir says

    You make a good case and point for the need for a strong TOC. More reasons why a writer should want to be a sure a reader can chart his or her way through the book easily and effortlessly–and for the writer to do so as well. Thanks for your phenomenal comment. (And yes, novels need good TOCs, too. TY!)

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