The Books That Changed Me (Pt. 1): Backwards & Forwards

Backwards and Forwards is a "Book that Changed Me."

by Dahveed Bullis

“Don’t you wanna feel my bones on your bones? It’s only natural”
-The Killers

Hello dear readers!

I am so grateful you chose to land your eyes on my words this week. It means a lot for you to
join me in the meanderings of my mind.

The first book in this series is Backwards & Forwards, and let me tell ya this book shapes my
writing more than most anything I’ve come across. I first danced with this in a special course
offered at EWU, and I was engrossed. Initially the plan was to write one post about each book,
but that’s just not going to happen (sorry?).

Perhaps my biggest focus as an actor (and therefore director and writer) is on characters. I’ve
found it’s often a good character that forces you through a bad plot (I”m looking at you, Altered
Carbon season 2!). Mister Ball brings a beautiful point to playwriting about characters in the
10th chapter of this book that I wanted to share and pontificate about with you today.

“Scripts contain bones, not people. Good playwrights limit their choice of bones to those which
make the character unique. Onto the uniqueness the actor hangs the rest of the human being.”
The biggest advice I give writers is, relinquish control and let it become something new. Ball
makes that a little easier by giving the advice of only making bones. I interpret it in my own way
of course so… Let me break it down.

Emotional attachment and sentimental value make it really hard to let go. Recently, I became a
minimalist in my life. Everything down to only two boxes. This was a big choice. I let go of all
emotional attachments to the items that I held dear, but ultimately could not nail down why they
mattered. Like Will Farrel, everything must go.

This minimalist approach is also how I write characters.

I leave them with basic descriptions and leave them to be described more by their actions and
not what they look like. And that’s the true key. Action. It is through the building blocks of
actions that the characters come to fruition, and the reasons within are a matter I like to leave to
the actors who touch them and not by the conduit that wrote them.

The play I wrote about in my last post, called Painted Eyes, had very loose definitions for the
characters. Absolutely anyone could have played them. The characters themselves would have
changed immensely depending on who played them, but the actions they made would have
been the same by virtue of the dramatic action of the show. That thrills me more than anything. Knowing that the same piece can be played by different troupes for eternity and they will never
truly be the same.

So that’s my advice this week, dear readers. By only loosely defining your characters you will
ditch the boxes that leave your work constrained by the likes of casting. Unless it’s imperative
that your character be from a specific community (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, etc.), don’t bother defining
that. Leave your work open to any possibility and representation becomes the issue of the
playhouse and casting directors themselves. You are merely the conduit for the characters to
live in your sandbox.

Don’t limit your castles.

Thanks for reading,

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