Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Table of Contentment

A lot of people just turn past the Table of Contents when starting a book, right? Maybe. But if you're a clever author, you can use it as a powerful weapon against your readers' inner voice that tells them to put your book down.

When I was a kid, and I picked up the newest volume in a series that I loved, one of the first things I'd do is scan the ToC to see what clues I could mine from the chapter titles. I'd get revved up just from that preliminary list. As an author, too, it's just fun to name your chapters, to come up with a few words that capture the essence of what each episode has in store.

Foreshadowing is crucial here. The chapter titles themselves can convey an irresistible picture of what's just a few pages past the stopping point your reader scheduled in advance to make time for pilates class (if that's still a thing). And also, you can give enough hints earlier on to make fututre chapter names relevant, when they didn't mean anything at first glance.

For example, when someone reading my YA Fantasy gets through the first four chapters and turns back to the ToC, they'll see Chapter Five - Lady Valeine, and think, Finally, a female character! This book has been a total sausage fest so far, and I was getting worried. They'll see Chapter Seven - The Crystal Blade In The Dark Mountains, which on its own is already pretty sexy, and remember that they just read a reference to this particular mythical weapon, and that the story's hero was one day going to go after it. Chapter Eight - The Invited Enemy, could trigger a panicked realization like, Wait, the hero and his dad are in a magically protected place where only they can enter, plus the people they invite. Whoa, sounds like some major $**t's gonna go down. 

I could shamelessly plug my own book a lot more, but I think the point of this post is clear. Have fun naming your chapters; don't think of it as some tedious chore. If your reader is questioning whether she wants to continue, and turns back to the ToC for motivation only to see a bland numerical listing, she's probably likelier to close it than if you'd given her something enticing. Keep 'em on the line however you can, or lose 'em.