Revision Workshop: “Labor Day”

Joyce Carol Oates

Lesson time 25:44 min

Joyce holds a workshop of her student Lindsey’s story “Labor Day,” which can be downloaded in advance of the lesson.

Joyce Carol Oates
Teaches the Art of the Short Story
Literary legend Joyce Carol Oates teaches you how to write short stories by developing your voice and exploring classic works of fiction.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - I think it's very important for writers whether young or older to have an audience to have people who are sympathetic and supportive, but also fellow writers who have critical ideas and constructive suggestions. It's very good to have other people reading your work. There are many, many ways in which it's very instructive. And the most obvious way is sometimes a reader just doesn't know what's happening in a story and doesn't understand what the writer's trying to do. When we read a work of fiction, we don't know the intention of the writer. So editors receive material all the time, and we may reject material that's potentially very good but we don't understand it, or something's been left out, or it's the wrong title, or something's wrong with it. But in a workshop, the writer can be asked. We can ask, what did you mean by this? And why is this title what it is? And why did you end it this way? And in the discussion, the writer may learn that his or her intention did not come through at all, that people don't understand what happened, that the main part of the story has been sort of left out. Sometimes a new writer will want to not be too obvious or too explicit, and so the story might be too subtle. So the workshop is a way where you get feedback from interested and intelligent readers. And I find the workshops amazing because the young writers in my workshops often behave like editors. They're very, very sophisticated in the way they're looking at the structure of work, and I think very supportive, and warm, and really a friendly atmosphere, and I think very necessary for writers to feel that their work is wanted, and it's interesting, and people will applaud it, and laugh at it when it's funny, and so it's part of just the experience of writing. So with our reduced but exemplary writing workshop, we're going to discuss two stories today. First, we're going to take up Lindsay's story, "Labor Day." And so instead of there being like 10 other people here to discuss it, there's basically Corey. So you're going to have to stand in for a lot of other people. - I'll do my best. - So Corey and I will just have sort of a discussion about it, and you can listen, but we can ask you questions, also. - OK. - OK, so I'm just going to ask Corey, what was your reading experience? Just, did you like the story? - Yeah, I loved it. I think the best place to start on it is a level of experience, just because on an affect level, it's very funny, moment by moment. I laughed often reading it. And it's also paced very quickly-- - Yes, yes. - --to the point that, I mean, it's a page-turner for a short story, which is quite a feat. And then, like, as I was reading it and thinking, oh, this is a comedic sort of jaunt, almost like a comedy of manners type situation, all of a sudden it started to descend into what I would pretty much describe as a horror scene. It very quickly becomes traumatic with detail...

Find your voice in fiction

The author of some of the most enduring fiction of our time, Joyce Carol Oates has published 58 novels and thousands of short stories, essays, and articles. Now the award-winning author and Princeton University creative writing professor teaches you how to tap into your storytelling instincts. Find ideas from your own experiences and perceptions, experiment with structure, and improve your craft, one sentence at a time.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

A great class. Very informative and helpful about the craft of writing. Lots of masterful knowledge to pass on.

I learned so much from this Masterclass. Joyce Carol Oates is an incredible teacher. I feel inspired and more capable of writing short stories using the tools that she has offered us. I'm so very thankful this class exists, I will definitely come back for a refresher.

I've always loved Joyce Carol Oates and I've been working on starting my writing practice again. I signed up for MasterClass because I saw she had a class here. I loved it and am very inspired to write everyday again.

I loved watching and listening to Ms. Oates share her journey and tips. Now, I want to go back and actually do the workbook and homework. One of the main new ideas I got was writing a one event short story. I'll probably go through this class at least 3 times. I've already told my daughter who wants to write fiction, that this is a must do class. Joyce Carol Oates, thank you. Namaste'


laura J.

I can't find the resource with the comments made, listed down the lessons and do not see resources to click.

Mary S.

I also was unable to find the Resource section and/or the story Labor Day. Frustrating!


As someone who has never been in a writer's workshop, it was fascinating and informative to see how a story could be analyzed.


Hat's off to Lindsey for participating in the exercise. I'm a tad green with envy. Oh, for the opportunity to have Ms. Oats critique my work. Well done Lindsey... fantastic story. Well...after all this studying, something is getting through. I read Labor Day with my writer's eyes. And picked up on the same things at Ms. O... what I would call clutter, things that were getting in the way of a great story. Such a help to me.

Helena W.

I like Hemingway’s way of writing in short sentences and very straight on. It was a nice experience language wise. But Indian camp made a deeper impression on me after knowing what Madeleine explained above. When I write I find it difficult to explain a lot of facts in a beautiful language. Maybe that is why he left it out.


Great critical eye, insight and suggestions from Joyce, learnt a lot. Love it that she pointed out many ways of improving the work and said it without hurting the writer.

Bill C.

The files for the original story and the revised story appear to be exactly the same. None of the changes noted in the "track changes" file or discussed in the video have been implemented in the revised story. Is it possible the original story got uploaded twice?


The story had strengths but I feel the comments about it were rather timid and that the writer could be better helped if she were shown where the story had strengths, was amusing, good description, moved along etc along with examples of how it got bogged down, had irrelevant passages that did not add to story but only lengthened it and had the reader wondering about their significance and how they propelled the action. I also think the story would have been stronger if it started several paragraphs in. In summation, the timidity of the critiques left the writer with rather little to go on.

A fellow student

I wasn’t able to find the resources section for the two short stories, even using the url posted in comments. I was always taken back to the lesson. I suggest you include these in the lesson pdf so people aren’t frustrated by not being able to access the resources. I tried searching on resources, but nothing came up. Don’t make people have to search for material that is being discussed. Include it in the pdf class notes. Thanks.