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:
- Brainstorm 10-15 topics to discuss
- Determine 10-15 questions to answer or problems to answer
- Pinpoint the primary scenes in your story line or plot
- Create a timeline of events and then organize them logically
- Identify 10-15 benefits to highlight
- Profile your characters and organize chapters around them
- Mind map all the possible topics you might write about and then organize them into chapters
- Consider how the themes of your novel play out on a story line and then organize them into chapters
- Find the dramatic arcs in your novel
- 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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