Sunday, 8 May 2016

To TOC Or Not To TOC

Here's one I made earlier

A Table Of Contents (TOC) is standard in non-fiction, but what about fiction? Well, opinions vary.

Let me start by clarifying that I am talking about printed fiction. Generally all e-books have a TOC to make navigation easier, and it is a requirement of publishing on some sites. But in print a TOC is optional for fiction.

If the book is made up of chapters that are just numbered sequentially - 1, 2, 3; Chapter One, Chapter Two - then a TOC adds little. One book I saw recently alternated between two chapter titles as the perspective switched, something like The House, followed by On The Island, then the next chapter being The House again - another case where a TOC would look strange.

On the other hand, a collection of short stories would definitely need a TOC. Evocative chapter titles can be enticing, so benefit from being grouped together at the start of a book. If there is a lot of endmatter (book club questions, notes, a section about the author, and so on) then a TOC can help in finding the section you want.

As an author I have chosen to include a TOC in all my fiction books to date. My chapter names and book divisions are often tied to the meaning. I want the reader to be able to find a section if they want to refer back, or to be able to easily find one of the additional endmatter sections. Since the TOC is there already for the e-book, and only takes up one page, I can't see any reason to take it out. Obviously the reader can ignore the TOC if they want, but I always think it is better to offer the option than take away the reader's choice.

As a reader I find a TOC useful and intriguing; sometimes I refer back to them to get an overview of the novel's structure and thereby (sometimes) its meaning; or just to remind me of what happened after a break from reading. I always prefer books that have them.

How do you feel about a TOC in printed fiction? Old fashioned, or useful?



Karl Drinkwater said...

I changed my mind. TOCs in all e-books (it is a requirement) but only in print if it is a short-story collection.