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.

I have learned a great deal, and am still learning. Participating in this class has made me realize things about my writing I need to improve, and also new things I wish to try. I wish we could start a realistic online writer's workshop!

Absolutely loved this course. Such a fabulous and inspirational teacher.

The idea of taking something you already wrote and looking at it from another perspective is very useful. There are many times an idea won't coalesce because it is being told by the wrong character or is set somehow that works against the story instead of with it.

Ms. Oates gives practical insight on finding your story and your voice by observing the simplest things.


Jeanned'Arc L.

Good on you Correy for pushing boundaries. A disturbing story. I felt it belonged in a horror section because of its religious and self destruction content.


I just finished reading Near Death and I LOVED it. What a fabulous piece of writing. Can't wait to see more from Corey Arnold.

Karen T.

From the critique I’ve been listening to about Near Death, I’m hoping that Corey gets a chance to read Stephen King’s “The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson” The head injury - combined with the strong religious - symbolic belief system, leads to a serious split from reality. In Corey’s story - his MC sounds like he choses a self destructive path. And he’s also an unreliable narrator- could have great horror elements, if he wants to go that way. I’m going to read both right away. Very excited about both works.

Nathan T.

Matthew 18: 12How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish


Fascinating to be talked through the reader's instinctive first thoughts and analysis.

A fellow student

Cool lesson on reviewing your work through feedback. Learning from advice and seeing areas that need more polishing

Papia G.

I couldn't find the second story 'Near Death" and so, the second story's discussion couldn't be fully understood.

Papia G.

I really liked way the story "Labour Day" is critiqued. It has given me a lot of valuable insight and it somehow matches with how I felt when I read the story.

Maryn R.

I have workshopped many short stories and I loved it but not for poetry which I’ve written all my life. Short stories I was writing for the first time.

A fellow student

Thank you Ms Oates! for your kind, gentle and transparent approach to creative writng! I am encouraged and inspired to complete the book(s) that are patiently waiting to be released from within me!