A table of contents (ToC) is a tool for a reader to use as navigation within a book. They can read the story the writer wants to tell. It is also an organizational tool for the writer to help them categorize their material and keep it all straight.
A ToC is best used in nonfiction books where it allows the reader to understand, at a glance, the structure of the book and the topics available in each chapter. A ToC can improve the reading experience by acting as a preview of the book.
Every poem has a title (even a missing title is a title). In a poetry book, listing these titles in the ToC can help the poet portray their poems in a way that is the best appealing and attractive to the reader. It creates a theme which can become a poem.
ToCs in fiction can go one of two ways. In a collection of short stories, they are like a poetry book. The listed titles create a theme that joins the stories into a cohesive whole. By looking at the ToC, the reader can understand how the stories relate to each other. If there is no relation, there should be.
For all other fiction, a ToC is usually not needed. In the past, novels had titles and brief summaries of each chapter that are no longer used. In many ways, this style took away from the story and interrupted the pacing.
The exception to this is in some genres where chapter titles, listed in the ToC, add mystery, suspense, and help with pacing. However, this is a technique that can be difficult to pull off.
In my book, I had chapter titles I deleted in the final version. I realized they were more of a distraction and I left only chapter numbers that could be easily ignored. I couldn’t pull off the technique.
How do you feel about Tables of Content?