I’ve been reworking Tillie: Portraits of a Canadian Girl in Training, a sequel to my recently released novel Freefall: A DivineComedy as part of a three-book contract from Pen-L Publishing. They wanted me to write more about Tillie, Freefall’s main character, and Portraits shows Tillie’s development from three years on to eighteen.
As is usually true when I’m working on a long narrative, it has taken time to discover the correct point of view for this current work. I started out by interspersing first and third person, letting the reader experience Tillie more directly in first, but using third to give another view through a more mature narrative voice. Third person allows me to be more poetic and probe her inner life.
When I was reviewing earlier notes I’d made about this novel, I found the following, posted on 12/16/16:
Very happy I stumbled on Natalie Sarraute again last night. Am reading an interview with her that is a great help in thinking about structure for novels. She rejected the traditional plot idea and was more interested in displaying the inner life from what I can discern so far. I also started reading again Childhood, which she wrote/published at 83 and was her bestseller, a memoir. But again the structure is helping me to rethink Tillie and I’m excited about that. About having a double voice, the third person and first, one representing the external world and the other the inner.
This approach led to me creating a kind of double for Tillie, one who wants to follow convention, the kind that would appear in a more conventional, traditional narrative, and her other side, a more poetic, creative girl who wants to follow her own path—to be unusual. I tried to pursue this dual Tillie, using italics for the third person part. Then on 1/19/17, I posted this observation:
So I’m realizing that the third person italic narrative gives a more distant view of Tillie and a more realistic one. She tries to sound tough and on top of things in her first person narrative. The third person at times contradicts or even embellishes the first person.
This realization forced another change in my method. I decided to use third person throughout but have periodic riffs in italics that are more lyrical. Yet even this style has evolved so that I’m no longer using italics in that way to highlight certain passages but am weaving the more expressive prose throughout.
I’m also discovering that this is a true Bildungsroman, a “novel that recounts the development (psychological and sometimes spiritual) of an individual from childhood to maturity” so that the main character “recognizes his or her place and role in the world.” At the same time, it also has elements of a Kṻnstlerroman (a novel about an artist’s development) since in her later years, Tillie seizes her artist self and gives it expression in multiple ways.
Now I can focus mainly on Tillie’s formative years. I’m grateful that I discovered Sarraute early on as it opened up other possibilities—forced me to rethink what I was doing. I was feeling uncomfortable in my body about the book, especially the later part, though I love the early Tillie where I feel I’ve captured something wonderful about this character. I can stay with this younger Tillie. I don’t have to develop her to full adulthood. She really is a Canadian Girl in Training!