Opening Paragraphs: Case Study #3: Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

Creativity & Writing


40,000 YEARS AGO

It got cold. It got so cold, the legends say, that rabbits hid underground for months at a time, the elk took to living in caves, and birds fell from the sky as their wings froze in midflight. It got so cold that the air crystallized in front of the Wide Valley wolves as they hunted. Each breath seared their lungs and even their thick undercoats did not protect them. Wolves are made for winter, but this was a winter beyond all wolves. The sun stayed always on the far side of the Earth, and the moon, which before had  been a vibrant beacon, chilled to black dimness.

The raven king said it was the winter to end the world. That it would last three full years and that it was sent to punish those who ignored the will of the Ancients. All Lydda knew was that she was hungry, and that her pack could not hunt.


The novel opens with a prologue, an ancient past detailed in the legends about a apocalyptic cold that may potentially bring an end to all creatures. The first paragraph first highlights a few animals of the forest, such as the rabbit, the elk, and the birds–before introducing the main cast of the story, the wolves. The wolves are deeply affected by the cold, accompanied by a sense of smallness and despair. The raven king is “quoted”, presumably a wise prophetic figure in this particular fictional universe. He introduces the Ancients to the readers, who pose as a higher power or some kind of divinity that rules above all earthly creatures. Finally, a character is introduced: Lydda. Like all other creatures and her wolfmates, she is affected by the winter. Conflict is introduced: Lydda is hungry, and she cannot hunt with her pack.


I am usually skeptical about prologues, because they tend to be obscure, unnecessarily mystifying, and adds nothing to the story. This prologue opening is anything but. I am already several chapters in, and I know that the legend itself is intricately linked with the characters and plot that are presently unfolding. What has occurred in the legends also play an integral role in shaping the lives and circumstances of the present characters. In short, it is very relevant to the story.

From the very beginning there is a clear sense of conflict: the seemingly eternal and unbearable cold that freezes the world over and threatens to end the lives of the forest. Instead of a series of mirrors and smoke (which gets tremendously annoying), the story immediately focuses on the wolves–which, from the title of this novel Promise of the Wolves, is obviously the central figures within the story. Lydda, the temporary protagonist of this prologue, makes her appearance without delay. The cold, of course, falls on all creatures alike, but on a personal level, Lydda is hungry because her pack cannot hunt in this weather. Her very survival (as well as her pack’s) is at stake. Without a doubt, this will be her motivation that drives her forward, and it is a simple but very powerful one.


This is one of the best openings I have ever read! The hook is the clear sense of conflict as well as a powerful character drive. The pacing is quick and thorough; no words are wasted on gimmicks or “preternatural” effects–if you know what I mean. The storytelling is absolutely amazing. I am dying to finish this book–and it’s really rare to encounter a story like this.

Oh, and if you saw my previous Case Study on The Court of Air, I gave up after the second chapter because the story was all over the place. Most importantly, the main characters aren’t very well-established. Characters are top priority for me when I am reading a story and I just can’t bear a book that mistreats (even unintentionally) its characters.

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