Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fun Ideas and Tips #1: A Private Table of Contents

Whether a story will officially have an actual Table of Contents (TOC) or not, keeping one to yourself while writing can help you keep tabs on quite a few things.

1. Give a title to each chapter or major section of your story. That way it's easy to reference back to it instead of trying to remember page numbers or which numerical chapter heading each scene occurs in. These titles don't have to be fantastic or permanent, just something to hit your memory buttons for optimum organization.

2. Make note of the number of pages or word count next to the chapter titles to give you an idea of how large or small your chapters/sections are. This comes in handy when you need to combine or sever chapters or when you're looking for chunky places to reduce word count.

3. Put a one or two-line summary beneath the chapter titles. This acts like a mini outline of sorts, helps with remember what happened where, and can show you where the key beats of the story are taking place. It'll reveal where flat chapters are too.

4. Switching POVs throughout the book? Your private TOC can showcase whose POV each chapter is in and how often you switch them around. Maybe you've stayed too long in one POV and neglected another. Maybe you intended to switch every other chapter and this will help you stay on top of that.

5. A private TOC is also a great place to mark demolition and completion. Need to work on Chpt. 10 but haven't figured out how yet? Put a note next to it in the TOC so you don't forget the where. Have Chpts. 1-5 polished to a glow? Celebrate by checking them off in your private TOC.

A private TOC is like a master sheet for the book. You don't have to use all five of the above suggestions. You may find other uses that will help you achieve your writing goals. Have other great ideas for a private TOC? Please share in the comments.


  1. Oh, I do this. I have a notebook where I write down my "TOC" with a brief descrip of what happened in the chapter. Helps me keep track of my characters and my plot. :)

  2. I also do a variation of this with notecards! I write the title of the chapter on the top, then some details on the card about what happens in that scene, i.e. changes (cause if nothing changes it should probably be tossed) and what that scene accomplishes as far as story movement, etc.

    When I'm stuck, I like to lay them out in front of me (usually on the floor for space) and then I can look at everything at the same time! Sometimes it helps :)

    Great tips, as usual!

  3. This is a great idea. When I was writing my ms, I actually used chapter titles as a simple outline. I never wanted to go in depth, but having some general idea where the characters would be in that particular chapter was incredibly helpful.