The Writer

SETTING THE TABLE

A table of contents is an odd little thing: usually forgotten in the heat of creating a first draft but so useful to focus, shape, and pace later drafts. At some point during the second draft – possibly a “blocked” day, when a manuscript’s progression stalls – it’s quite useful to set up your novel’s table, where an author works through chapter titles and lengths and gains the sense of through-line that comes with this knowledge. Here’s an example for a working table of contents for Feenie Bailey and the Dog Days Mystery, a middle grade novel.

Titling chapters

First things first: It’s time to name the chapters in your draft. When it comes to titling chapters, the idea is to come up with . This is a working table of contents (TOC), which means there’s plenty of room for the author The answer to this question will give the chapter a sense of urgency and, as a result, movement. It’ll also easily point out segments in need of revision. If you are unable to articulate what happens in a given chapter, it’s probably a sign that this section has not yet found its shape – or beginning, middle, and end. Once you’ve pinpointed the focus, then you may pencil in a short descriptor of the action that occurs or opt for something more whimsical. Look through the example titles to see how they have a sense of “opener,” “closer,” a certain coyness or “messing-with-you,” something that elicits question. Ideally you want a good variety and for them to have a rhythm all their own but analogous to the rhythm of the novel story, too.

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