When I wrote my first novel, To Hunt a Sub, I found out that I learned a lot about life from my characters. I wrote about that here if you’d like to check it out. That novel is set in the present day but my newest novel, Against All Odds, the third book in my trilogy Crossroads, is set 850,000 years ago. These characters are predecessors to modern man. What could I possibly learn from them?
A lot it turns out. Here’s what I learned:
- Seconds and minutes aren’t important. In fact, I no longer wear a watch. Primitive people (I use that word denotatively and respectfully) gauged their actions by the placement of the sun and the moon in the sky and how much daylight remained. Seconds and minutes were meaningless. The Sun’s placement a finger above the horizon said, “Get home. Daylight’s about run out.”
- A hand next to the sun measures time passing. When I discovered this, I thought of it as a long-gone artifact until I talked to hikers and nature lovers. Every one of them knows that placing a finger next to the sun tells you how far the sun will travel in fifteen minutes. A hand, therefore, is an hour. Another reason I don’t need a watch to tell me when an hour has passed.
- Watch my backtrail. One reason is to see if anyone is following you but a bigger reason is to see what things look like for your return journey. This too I thought was an artifact, gone extinct when civilization invaded nature, but lots of hikers use this.
- Be aware of my surroundings. Not just with your eyes, with all your senses. Listen, smell, notice. If the insects fall silent, there’s probably danger. If a covey of birds explode into the sky, something bothered them.
- Stick your finger in scat (poop). If it’s warm, the animal who made that deposit is close by!
- How do I fix a wound in the wild? Nature is filled with nature treatments for injuries and wounds. Honey and moss come to mind immediately but there are so many more.
- Licking someone’s face is comforting. I don’t let my dog lick my face but I should. Wolves do it all the time to greet pack members. It feels good.
- Wolves are gentle. They aggressively defend their pack, are well-equipped to hunt the food they need, and don’t recognize body signals that tell them you don’t mean danger but when they feel safe with you, they are welcoming. I’m not saying you should go into the wild and pet a wolf. I’m saying don’t shoot it on sight just because someone told you wolves are dangerous.
- Cannibals eat humans because they’re easier to hunt. I didn’t want to talk about cannibalism but it kept cropping up as my characters traversed Eurasia. I didn’t understand why humans hunt other humans so I researched it. There are lots of reasons but one that stood out is that humans are a much easier prey than other animals.
- Find your moral compass and stick with it. In animals, it’s instinct. They do what allows them to survive and procreate because something inside tells them to. For humans, we have free will and big brains which makes us think we’ve evolved beyond instinct. Maybe we have but maybe instinct is the gut reaction that heads us the right direction for no reason we understand. I’ve learned to respect that.
- You can eat anything if you’re hungry enough. One reader gave a book in Crossroads (Survival of the Fittest I think) a one star out of five because she got sick of the disgusting slugs and worms the people ate. Well, this was a time before the bounty of farming, before the dominance of man’s weapons over animal’s. These people were hunters and gatherers, living off the land, thankful for anything edible. If you watch Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild, you’ll see he does the same thing.
For more lessons like these (and what a member of my critique group called “Wisdom from ancient man”), read my latest book, Against All Odds. For that matter, read the entire Crossroad’s series.
More about characters
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction soon. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning