Show, Don’t Tell: Creating Great Scenes (February)

“Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Well-written narrative nonfiction puts readers in moments of action and reflection. True stories well told, good narrative nonfiction reads like an adventure novel, paints cinematic images in minds of readers, and feels like sitting with the author over a cup of coffee. Think of Jon Krakauer’s high-adrenaline scenes in Into Thin Air put readers on Mount Everest during a fatal assent. Maya Angelou’s recollections of her childhood in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings are invitations to walk in the shoes of a Southern black girl. Robert Macfarlane’s probings in Underland make readers squirm with anxious claustrophobia.

You know it when you read it. Show, don’t tell.

The easiest way to show rather than tell is with visual representations — or scenes. Narrative nonfiction is a dance between crafting scenes and conveying information. This workshop throws open shades in your mind to help you see what techniques and approaches can elevate your nonfiction to read like great fiction. We will examine great scenes from nature, travel, food, and life writing and ask what makes them work.  You will have the opportunity to try your hand at transforming telling moments to showing moments with engaging in-class exercises. A wide variety of techniques are covered: dialogue/monologue, characterisation, narrative presence, language, and setting.  You will understand how scenes — and smaller scenelets — function with summary and reflection in writing as well.

“The Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Program with Kathryn Aalto, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, was a tremendous boost to my career as a creative writer. Judging the success of our relationship is easy: less than a year after we started, I have had five of the six essays she critiqued accepted for publication. Kathryn did more than just review and suggest, she recommended books and articles I should read, authors I should follow, conferences and short courses I should attend. She emphasized the importance of developing an online presence. She provided a detailed description of her career as a writer; the path she followed to becoming an internationally known, bestselling author. I still have much to learn, but Kathryn provided, encouragement, tools, and skills that will enable me to grow and chart my own course.”


  • Learn the difference between show vs tell
  • Identify and practice a range of techniques to write visually
  • Integrate figurative language into your writing to better show abstract ideas
  • Study great examples of scene creation
  • Enjoy a supportive global writing community


  • £50
  • 2-4 PM GMT
  • SUNDAY 20 March 2022
  • Zoom link will be sent to you


My teaching philosophy is focused on encouraging a uniquely personal exploration of narrative nonfiction and its techniques, tools, and approaches. At its core, I believe teaching is about responding to each student, whether they are emerging writers or writing beyond the level of content mastery. I create a supportive learning environment that fosters creative expression, critical thinking, and individual artistic growth.


I am a passionate practitioner and teacher of narrative nonfiction.  For more than twenty-five years, I have taught writing and literature courses at colleges and universities including Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Plymouth University. I have a global mentoring practice, thriving online writing courses, and lead in-person retreats, courses, and workshops throughout the United States and Britain.