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.

structure and form and how to concisely improve works in progress

My first Masterclass with JCO was so well-presented that I purchased all access for myself, gifted two others, and sing praises about your offerings.

I enjoyed learning from her. The workshops were excellent examples of dissecting short stories. she provided practical, useful lessons and exercises.

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


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.


I simply loved this lesson as I am getting more knowledge about how to do short story criticism individually and how to speak in group reviews. Corey displays immense knowledge about consciousness and slipping into unconsicousness what I call getting in altered cosnciousness. I kept thinking that it could be partly his own expreience or expreience narrated by someone else. That is sort of confirmed by Joyce as well when she advices him to distance himself from the narrator as a writer. I definitely felt that the character of therapist felt a little incomplete. Narrator of the story seems to be suicidal having thought of death several times and seeing a therapist. It is ghastly, the way he tries various ways at the cost of hurting himself, to recreate how it feels to be in an altered consciouness, to assertain his belief and to himself and others. He seems to have got addicted to that feeling. Overall I enjoyed reading the story and listening to the "revision workshop".

A fellow student

Joyce's feedback was very interesting to me. I work in IT and feel that there are two worlds that speak two different languages--the business and the solution worlds--and the people from each of those worlds look down on the other, only appreciating their side of things. While I agreed with some of the suggestions, I absolutely *loved* Corey's story. I felt it was clever, flowed naturally, and was accessible and yet had levels of deeper meaning when considered. But then Joyce's feedback changed or challenged many of the parts that I really enjoyed, such as the ambiguous lines that could've gone one way or the other. For example, I liked feeling surprised when I thought Tim was asking "What's wrong with you?" because of the marks on the main character's face, but then we find out he meant that in regard to Leah. I say all this because I think a writer might have to make a decision: Do they want to be revered by other writers, who represent the technical solution part of the world, like engineers in the physical systems world or solution architects in the IT world who have little concern or interest in the nuance of the general problem, or do they want to have the average person enjoy their work? I'm not an expert, but most people are not experts either. I did not really enjoy Indian Camp. I don't think most people would enjoy Indian Camp. I feel like most "classic" works are more suited to the niche audience of writers, English majors, grammar nuts, and the like. I do respect the work that goes into them, but I do always struggle to understand why someone would want to just impress other engineers when it leaves the rest of the world disinterested. But to each his own, I'm not judging, just saying it's an interesting choice that I think a writer should make deliberately rather than trying to please experts versus pleasing people who might simply enjoy their work regardless of the technicalities.

Elizabeth L.

this lesson was invaluable... so much discussion that offered insight into the creative product and how it is perceived vs intended and identifying just how much of the writing is driven by actual intention. I'm not sure all the layers of his self inflicted near death experiences were examined -- there is a whole community that brings themselves to near death by asphyxiation for a heightened sexual experience and that parallels very well in this story. So many images created that were not discussed - Tim taking haunting pictures in the while he glides around in the dark on a skateboard - uses the skateboard to hit /stop the youth leader which actually gives him another opportunity to experience what he inflicts on himself... sessions with Eugene have both men hobbled by being in the same church (brings up the whole RC church approach to hiding/denying misconduct) and he's actually alone in his sessions because he's facing a wall. Power in a name -- but he never really names his angst (which I like) -- his first injury is described as a tightrope (very powerful) - standing in infinity is such an evocative line - my belief has nothing to do with it also so very powerful in separating the church function from the human...in the end he's floating watching the sky move but he's the one moving (such an incredible demonstration of refusal to see reality) I know my comments are scattered here but there is just so much that I love about this story (I made so many notes on the parts that moved me -- you are a gifted writer. I will be looking for your work. JCO - also loved how you led the critique - a gentle dissection.

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