Thinking of People as Characters in Memoir

I’m catching up on some DIYMFA Book Club prompts after being out of town. Today’s is What is your favorite supporting character archetype and why? 

Since I write memoir and nonfiction I haven’t really thought much about character archetypes. Gabriela Pereira talks about five types of supporting characters  in her book DIYMFA:

  • Villain
  • Love Interest
  • BFF
  • Mentor
  • Fool

When I wrote my memoir I thought about the other storytelling elements, such as structure, arc, and theme since I wanted my book to read like a novel, but thinking of the people in my life as characters was a bit more of a stretch.

The closest I came was to thinking about the antagonist of my story about my brain tumor and my dad’s subsequent stroke (which I learned from Pereira is not the same as the villain) is illness.

There are other character types in my book, though. The mentor is evident in a few places. As the youngest child of nine, I had many mentors in the form of older sisters and brothers which I include in the memoir. These are important to the story because finding my way inside my family is part of the story too.

The fool, which is a name that can be misleading is also there too. The fool is the voice of reason in the story. They are the characters who say things that the protagonist doesn’t want to hear. They are the character that helps the protagonist get rid of the false beliefs they have clung to previously.

In my book, that role is played by my father, who became a very different man after his stroke but still managed to help me see the value of my brain tumor and find my place in my family. At times it would seem that he was gone, but would say something that was so spot-on, I thought for sure he was still somewhere inside.  Seeing how he had changed and knowing that I might have experienced the same kind of losses in myself after my brain tumor helped me finally make sense of my past.

Pereira says the point of supporting characters is to help develop the protagonist more fully and I can see now that in my memoir by choosing to focus on mentors and the fool I found a way to show my journey and my development as the protagonist in the most three-dimensional manner.

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