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.

I found this course inspirational. The assignments gave me lots of ideas and I think encouraging short pieces as a starting point - a monologue, a super short narrative will help me start writing vs just thinking about writing.

I love Joyce Carol Oates' style of teaching. I'm completely enthralled listening to her.

she is so inspiring, i like how how she is delivering information - clear, calm and brilliant

Joyce, you taught me that a good writer's privilege is we get to make people feel they are not alone. Thank you!



Hi Amy, I had the same question. Here is the answer: "If you're already viewing a video, then you can click on your instructor's name at the top left corner of the page to be brought to the complete lesson plan." Once your in the section you'll see a tab marked resources and Voila!


I believed the "revised" version of Labor Day is the same as the original version. It still has Joyce's comments at the end, but I was also wondering why the first six pages had no changes that I could identify as I started to read it. Thanks!

A fellow student

Really interesting! I did disagree with Joyce about cutting out the "bit" where she sleeps in their bed with them. That's the threesome the story has been building up to all along, not necessarily the jacket. To me the jacket felt like a red herring, something our protagonist has obsessively focused on but in actuality has little to do with her motivations for going to the house. I think the bedroom scene is where she can finally allow herself to explore why she came to this house...unresolved family issues, fear of death, fear of loneliness, wanting something that doesn't fit her (like the haircut)... I think all the "bits" should be driving us to this scene. And let those bits help her unfold her desire to spend the weekend contemplating a threesome when it's not something she wants or needs.

A fellow student

think of the audience here and what needs to be made available for goodness sake

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.