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How to Build Character(s)

Eugene author teaches young adult fiction

I was definitely a complete nerd. I sat at the lunch table alone and got picked last for P.E., but books saved my life,” says Cidney Swanson, local novelist for young adult audiences and traveling speaker/educator. Swanson will host “Character Building: The Viscera of Young Adult Fiction,” Friday, Aug. 9 as part of Wordcrafters in Eugene’s ongoing program to teach the essentials of fiction writing.

Whether you’re brainstorming a new protagonist or polishing one for publication, the workshop is intended to support writers of all ages and abilities. “We’re back at the roots of how to write,” says Patricia Marshall, executive director of Wordcrafters. “We want [to see] people putting in the work to make their stories better.”

Swanson, who authors speculative fiction (fantasy and sci-fi), will offer solutions to populate a novel with characters that are not necessarily believable, but rather relatable. She says her popular Rippler trilogy and Saving Mars series may have “out there” scenarios in terms of action, but that “the moral or emotional development of a character as a result of that action” is more important.

Mars Burning, the fourth of her Terran/Martian novels, was released Aug. 5. If you want to see your name on the spine of a book, Swanson’s three-hour workshop will offer pointed instruction, discussions and writing breakouts — hoping to form “tools that everyone will go home and use for themselves.” A half-hour Q&A with Swanson will follow.

Swanson and Wordcrafters believe it’s important to pay it forward with literary success. “It’s my duty, my obligation and my pleasure to help the next [generation] of writers,” says Elizabeth Engstrom, Wordcrafters board member. “We’re hoping to engage the whole literary community of Eugene, because we have an amazing literary heritage here.” Wordcrafters is gearing up for an inaugural conference in March and year-round activities radiating from the 50th anniversary of Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion.

But for now: some character building. “In writing, character is one of those things you can always come back to and hone and refine and go deeper with,” Swanson says. “So how do you go about it?”

The “Character Building: The Viscera of Young Adult Fiction,” workshop runs 9 am to 12:30 pm, Friday, Aug. 9 in the Lamb Cottage at Skinner Butte Park. Register at wordcraftersineugene.org.