In case you missed it, last week I passed on author Margaret Atwood's idea that "All stories are about wolves." One of Atwood's wolf stories is "being thrown to the wolves," and that's the one I'd like to expand on today.

Over the weekend, some of my Harvard Law School classmates and I met for our annual gathering. One of these guys is a both a litigator and a lover of literature, so asked him what kind of stories he thought resonated with jurors. I've adapted his comments into a simple, 3-part structure. If you're wondering how to write the application essay, maybe this will give you some ideas.

Part 1: Promise

The "thrown to the wolves" story begins when someone makes a promise. Maybe you made the promise, or maybe someone made the promise to you. The promise might be explicit, something that was stated clearly. Or it might be implicit, something that was expected or understood but was never clarified. The promise might have been made a long time ago, or it might have been made recently.

If these parameters sound broad, that's because they are. You have freedom to interpret what is or isn't a promise based on your perspective. In the application essay, your perspective is what the reader is trying to understand anyway.

Part 2: Betrayal

After the promise is made, the promise is betrayed. Like in the video above. I'm pretty sure those two buffalo or whatever they are totally have an implied agreement not to feed each other to the wolves. But then the second one bowls over the first and is like, "Later, dude," as he charges off to safety. Then the first one is like, "Dude..." as the pack of wolves begins to devour him. Dude, indeed.

In your case, you might be the betrayer, or you might be the betrayed. How did it happen? Did you say or do something? Did the other person say or do something? How did people respond? Where were you, exactly, and what do you remember about that setting? When did this happen, and what stood out to you about the timing in your life?

Part 3: Justice?

I put a question mark after justice because I don't know how your betrayal turned out. You might not, either. Maybe it's clear, but maybe it's not. If you think about your relationships, you already know what makes "winning" an argument difficult. There can be disagreement about whether a promise was made: "I never said that" or "Yes, that's what I said, but I thought you knew I meant _____." There can be disagreement about whether a betrayal happened: "I didn't do that" or "Yes, I did that, but it's not a big deal."

Whether justice, or at least a resolution, occurs depends mostly on the willingness of both sides to compromise in defining the promise and defining the betrayal. Maybe there is an apology. Maybe there is forgiveness. Or maybe not. It's messy.

Were You Ever Thrown to the Wolves?

I'm not trying to shoehorn your experience into a promise-betrayal-justice template. But I am trying to ask you questions so you can figure out for yourself if you have a promise-betrayal-justice type of story to tell. So tell me -- were you ever thrown to the wolves?

Good luck writing!


Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.