None of the Above
Q. In a novel with a contents page, where would the list of major characters be placed? Before the contents or after?
Q. Working on a nonfiction book: Should the acknowledgments go before the bibliography or after?
A. [Editor’s note: This answer applies to both of the questions above.] The conventional order of elements in a book is determined by a combination of tradition and logic. Logic dictates that chapter 10 must follow chapter 9. Tradition is less rigid. In books published in English, any section that provides a key to navigating the text, starting with the table of contents, is traditionally placed in the front matter. (By contrast, French publishers, for example, usually put the table of contents in the back.) Items that provide commentary or supporting information generally go in the back matter. These include glossaries, endnotes, bibliographies, and the like.
A dramatis personae, which both introduces and provides a key to the people in the narrative, fits best in the front matter, either just after the table of contents, where it would be listed first, or immediately before the beginning of the text if other front matter intervenes. Acknowledgments, on the other hand, may be placed either in the front matter—as a standalone item or as part of an author’s preface—or in the back. When the acknowledgments go in the back, it works well to place them immediately after the final chapter, where they function as a sort of epilogue.
CMOS 1.4 outlines the order of elements in a book; most books won’t have all these elements, but the order applies to both fiction and non-. And it’s flexible, to a point. For example, unless you’re a practicing surrealist, you should try to keep any numbered chapters in their proper order.