Contents Under Pressure

A relatively new e-reader, I am learning the advantages of  Tables of Contents. You want to know what's ahead  in the pages you can't see until you touch and touch and touch your screen and eventually get to them. But as a writer of short stories, novellas and novels, I have had different ideas about chapter divisions, and thus the necessity of including a Table of Contents at the beginning of my books. I loved writing short stories. I thought a short story had more potential to be perfect than a long sprawling novel. Then I read John Gardner, in fact I read and re-read John Gardner, and I remember his thoughts about the  novella, how it traced a single emotional line (or something to that effect). Then I wanted to write a perfect novella. In fact my first "novel" Centre/Center is really three linked novellas. It qualifies as a novel in terms of the breadth of material, number of characters, time covered, complexity of theme, etc, but I divided it into three sections that focussed on three different but related characters. The breaks between the novellas are equivalent to chapter breaks.

When a friend read my recently published novel You Again on her IPad, she felt lost without a detailed Table of Contents. She is a disciplined person and likes to read to the end of a chapter before she falls asleep at night, and she prefers to know what she is getting in for. Having been reading on my Kobo, first The Great Gatsby, and most recently, Confederates in the Attic, I now understand what she means (though I find guides such as Tables more useful in non-fiction, like Confederates). So I relented, and created a fairly thorough Table of Contents for You Again, still not chapters, however. Instead, as in Flashing Yellow, I have big chunks I call "Parts," and, in You Again, month divisions. Within each month, though, the narrative moves from one character's point of view to another's, and those are separated by simple lines. For me it's a matter of rhythm, breath. I wonder how it is for other authors?  My friend  quickly surveyed the novels she was reading and found different ways of handling contents that lead to Tables. She liked Kate Atkinson's very precise Table, but found less detailed Tables in Colum McCann and Achebe.
If necessity really is the mother of invention, perhaps my habits will change as I write texts that will be published electronically. I had to think about it again when I updated my Shinny's Girls Trilogy for epub, because I want the Trilogy to be available to libraries, where I find most of my readers. Epub seems to require only that divisions are clear within the text, then goes ahead and makes the Table of Contents automatically. Much easier than doing it myself, with Kindle, even though the instructional video I followed for Mac users featured an Englishwoman with a lovely, patient voice.
In this eworld of books, TOC's seem to be an aid for readers. That requirement is prompting me to consider how organize my contents and, more importantly, why I do so. Is it the instinctive rhythm, the stopping for breath I feel, and changes in narrative voice as points of view shift from character to character,  or a greater logic I have not yet considered?

("Contents Under Pressure" is the title of one of my friend David King's comedies for theatre.Thanks, Dave.)