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Arts & Entertainment

Revision Workshop: “Near Death”

Joyce Carol Oates

Lesson time 28:24 min

This workshop focuses on Corey’s short story “Near Death,” which can also be downloaded in advance.

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] - When you're writing, it's very good to have readers so that you don't become isolated and become really obsessed with your work. It's better to have like a deadline and have to turn something in, even though it's not complete, and talk about it, and go back and revise it, and bring it back to the workshop. It's more aerated than it is a very isolated and solitary activity. It's good also to have an environment where everything is understood to be imperfect. It's a workshop. Writing workshop means that it's work in progress, that nothing is expected to be perfect. So it's understood that anyone comes into a writing workshop wants criticism and will look forward to it. [MUSIC PLAYING] Now we're going to take up a story by Corey called "Near Death," which is a great title. Lindsey, I'm just going to ask you what you thought about the story, as like a reader-- just as a reader first. - So as a general reader, I really loved it and connected with it. Yeah, I was telling Corey that I grew up going to youth group, so-- - Oh, yeah. That's great. - Yeah. So we had that in common, and I felt like he just did such a generous read of faith communities as well, where he was pretty accurate and true to what the community is like without being kind of critical, which I thought was really well done throughout. And yeah, he just-- I thought that the opening and ending of the story were extremely strong and masterful. Like, I love this first line, "The injuries themselves weren't serious. The first was a two-inch," and then we're looking at the second one. And then we're not expecting those pigs to come back. And they do in the hallucination at the end. And just, it was surprising, but completely satisfying and came full arc and full circle. Yeah. - It's very a bit sort of a vivid image in a kind of long colloquial presence. To bring something biblical and apocalyptic is somewhat startling, the story from the Old Testament. So we kind of wonder, I think, what that's going to do, and then it comes back later. LINDSEY: Yeah, and I think he just does a good job of showing how this youth pastor has these Bible stories kind of interweave with his psychology. He kind of keeps returning to them and thinking about them even in that first paragraph about lapping the water straight from the source or cupping it to your mouth, just like little details that he picks up on. - Then when they talk about that a little later, there's this exchange, like on page five. Then there is the story of the pigs. The story always disturbed me, the idea of a soul without a frame, those angry desperate demons darting around, seeking something to inhabit. It means a space inside of a room for more than just their own souls. And then Leah says, "But you can't possibly believe that she's laughing at demon pigs. It's silly." And then the narrator says, "I don't think my belief has anything to do with it," which ...

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.

Excellent and filled with valuable tips, strategies, and advice.

The entire course was perfect I loved every single lesson!!!

Extraordinary writer and teacher. Her guidance is invaluable.

This class was fantastic! Thank you Joyce for helping and inspiring others and myself to enjoy the craft that is writing.


A fellow student

Where is the Resources Section? I have scoured the workbook and find only mentions. an an excerpt of Corey's short story.

Christine B.

where do you find the resources section for the downloads? Can't find Near Death

A fellow student

-I thought Leah was a figment of the Pastor's imagination. Tim was there, but Leah never really was! The dialogue actually supports this theory. Had she committed suicide? Had the Pastor lost a friend; A girl he cared for, however inappropriately? Is this why he was hurting himself? Was he mimicking her self-harm in a way? Maybe as a way to recover from the trauma of loosing her he imagined Leah, after her death. Was he made to see the therapist after the death of one of his closest students? The therapist asks, "she stayed after every night?" and knows the truth of the situation even though the Pastor has not admitted it to himself. -I found the author had such a haunting story. I found myself wondering if he would connect the camp retreats, the multiple bathing suit references, and the inappropriate relationships he was forming with the young girl Leah to something in his past. And perhaps even an accident that lead to her death/suicide. Was he maybe responsible in some way? Or had be been responsible for another young woman death in the past? When the woman floats away down the river- for me symbolized her death. When he did nothing to intervene, it suggested he was responsible or blaming himself. I would love to hear more from Corey as I think he had a lot of symbolism and deeper meanings then he was given credit for! Would love your thoughts and feedback. -Oates has so many little nuggets of wisdom that she imparts. I don't know that she spent any significant amount of time with either students short story, so it would not be fair to judge her based on some initial remarks. The structure was meant to be a casual 'shoot from the hip' workshop, and less a carefully structured study of Corey's work.

Bethany D.

I appreciated learning specifically how each detail in the story reverberates throughout the whole story and gives it layers of meaning and purpose. Each detail contributes to the story in the most appropriate way. And needs to be adjusted with each revision over time. I saw that in this workshop.

A fellow student

I thought Corey's story was wonderful. I thought the darkness and ambiguity made it much more compelling. I did not really agree with the suggestions that would have seriously altered the story, such as having a therapist outside the church. I thought having the church "counselor" as the therapist worked because the nararrator was then completely engrossed in a dreamlike pious state where he was not getting any real outside help. He appeared so lonely, and like he was potentially punishing/putting himself into an altered state because of buried desires he had. I really connected with this story, I hope Corey publishes something soon.


The workbook says to download the story from Resources. I don't have that section in my Masterclass list of links. Am I possibly missing it? I would like to look at the story being discussed. If I can't review it to understand some of the references, this particular class is pretty much useless :-(

Laura Y.

I enjoyed the original story "Near Death" and found it to be equally touching and disturbing, especially for readers with similar backgrounds (and questions).

Carol M.

I enjoyed the story as it was first written, and I didn't think that most of the suggested edits were helpful to the mood or point of the story.

Carol M.

I really enjoyed and connected with the story "Near Death" just the way it was, without the suggested edits.

A fellow student

Strange how certain things you consciously disagree with might help you. I loved Oate's general advice on writing but strongly disagreed with her specific suggestions on both these student stories. I felt her suggestions were so global that the writers would lose their story and be writing an entirely different story if they followed her advice. On "Labor Day" Joyce referred to I think what she called, too many bits. This wasn't advice I disagreed with but that I didn't understand. I couldn't quite get what she meant by that and then, a few weeks later, I re-read a short story I wrote some time ago that I thought was pretty good but needed just a little work. Then I realized it too suffered from "too many bits" and horrifyingly needs a real overhaul. I like the reworking and feedback section. I still strongly disagree with Oate's specific suggestions to the students, but I realized that the specifics in a way aren't the point. The point is that by workshopping, at some level your subconscious must pick up a more general sense of what is not strong in your own work by work shopping others work and maybe make your own pieces better. I think too this attitude might make students less sensitive about criticism. Even a Master may not be quite right about a specific suggestion. But absorbing a more general idea of what makes a story strong and what weakens it may find its way into your thought process and find its way into your work and make it better. Specific suggestions may be wrong but a broader principle might be learned. I really liked this course. I have seen all the videos but have not done all the homework. I think I want to go over the downloads and do that and maybe then re-watch certain sections. As a side note, organizationally the videos were maddening and the download organization maddening. But the videos themselves were brilliantly shot and edited. Very well done. I can see someone inadvertently missing many aspects of this course because the interface is not great. But the material itself is really good. Make it easier to find, I'd say to the producers. Improve the layout because it'd be a shame if your clients miss this great material because it's laid out funky.