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.

fantastic class, my only wish is that it was longer. it gave me so more more perspective on crafting short stories and thinking about the angles to approach a character or story from.

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

I learned great revision points on short stories.

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.


Sally M.

It was difficult to judge from mere comments on the story. It might have helped to have copies of the story available. But the pattern of what aspects of story that were commented upon was interesting and informative.

David B.

I loved this class. I didn’t expect the writing to be mature since these were college students bravely showing new work. I enjoyed seeing the early review process. Having never been exposed to or included in a writer’s workshop, this class gave me an introduction before I walk in to a room full of intimidating writers with my own work in hand. Having studied math in college and now learning to write in my later years, This class makes me bolder to put my initial work out for critique. I too found some parts of both stories incomprehensible yet learned volumes from Joyce’s advice and felt better knowing she was confused in similar spots. Perhaps I am the intended audience.


I'm glad to have been witness to this writers workshop. But if I had any issues with this lesson and the previous one, it is that I was a spectator, not a contributor. Don't think we needed two of these.


I didn't like this lesson, not that it wasn't valuable but I simply didn't like the lesson probably because I didn't fully understand the content of the story, so I found myself focussing on the writer's still instead of the content. I believe the writing would be stronger and the pace quicker if the writer removed the "justs" and the "sort ofs" and the frequent repetitions. E.g. The therapist who "sort of nodded and hummed". If sort of were removed the image is clear and definite. About the photos, did they have an apocalyptic vibe or only sort of? Elsewhere, was it a half question or sort of a half question? One imagines the ear started to engorge and not sort of engorge, heightening the image of the injury. Did Tim sigh or sort of sigh? How do you sort of sigh? I feel the author weakens his prose by the tentative half-hearted assertions. Perhaps I'm off base here commenting on style. I am not sure what is expected of us when it comes to "liking a lesson" especially in this instance. I often jump into copy editing mode when I read (to me) an incomprehensible piece, thinking the story might become clearer to me if I tighten the telling of it.