Against All Odds / characters / Crossroads / Guest blogs and bloggers

What I learned from the characters in Against All Odds

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

Get to Know Your Character

How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

Characteristics That Make Your Character Memorable

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


73 thoughts on “What I learned from the characters in Against All Odds

  1. you sure did a great “book talk”
    and it sounds like you research to origins some accurate portrayals i your works
    – interesting about the sun and all that –
    and i am not sure how i feel about the age of man (some argue we are not as old as your dates go back) but i do know there were times when humans weee more in such with nature and our circadian rhythm was a guide as were the many things you mention here – with understanding the sun in relation to time as well as sensory experience and attention
    so awesome to read
    and regarding the one star review / reminds me how subjective and sometimes infantile a reviewer throws up a critique
    often they had expectations or were simply grossed out and so there comment hoods little weight
    – still grateful i guess but so many times people have a “surface review” and comes from lack of depth
    there is a scene in the movie “shakespeare in love” where the masterpiece is unfolding
    and they aske one actor “how is it?” and he shrugs his shoulders as if to say “eh – so so ”
    and the fun part is we all know the genius work is unfolding and it was more about that characters limits and inability to see greatness
    which is often the case
    and maybe even sadly we have more and more “dumbed down” folks – not to put anyone down – and that reviewer likely was not dumbed down – and to even be reading says a lot about their great side
    -but my point was how so many reviews are so subjective that they don’t really reflect the work – but are so personal and almost trite

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We learned the hand to the sun trick when we sailing. It is nice to let go of time but I still check it a lot – not enough hours in the day and I don’t want them to slip away from me.

    Living a sort of minimalist life I often think about how people did things without all of our modern conveniences.

    A great list of things to learn. It is so cool to learn from our own creative endeavors.

    Liked by 2 people

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  4. Jacqui, what an interesting point that you learn from your characters. I’ve never written fiction, but I can imagine that spending so much time and energy developing a complex character requires a great deal of attention to their individual thoughts and ideas.

    Also, your comments on the concept of time are intriguing. I’ve always been interested in human transitions, and it’s instructive to consider the changes in daily life and attitudes that happened in 15th Century Europe when clocks became a common fixture in village plazas.

    And BTW, I’ve been enjoying “Survival of the Fittest” very much. It puts a fascinating human face on what might otherwise be dry human history, and vividly demonstrates what was important to our ancestors. Great read! ~James

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wonderful comments, James. Margaret Meade started me thinking about the importance (or lack thereof) of clocks and measuring time. Really, so often it doesn’t matter. I no longer wear a watch! So glad you’re enjoying Survival of the Fittest. Our forebears are interest, brilliant, creative folks, to survive when there was no wheel, no farming, no understanding of ownership. Love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is interesting when researching historical civilisations or peoples. We (modern humans) think we are smarter than our ancestors, but we’re not. One just has to read your Crossroads series to realise that. Plus the remarkable ancient buildings, inventions, breakthroughs were all done prior to computers, and we are still trying to emulate what they did.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The great privilege of being a writer, Jacqui, is that we get to absorb the knowledge and experience of the characters we imagine into existence — call it a creative feedback loop. Glad your association with Xhosa, et al., has been so rewarding.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Damyanti. I have bored most everyone I know with conversations about ancient man so my blog becomes my release! Looking forward to hearing how your new book does in its journey to a TV screen!


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  8. This is very interesting, Jacqui. I think we prefer not to think about cannibalism as it goes against our principles and we find it disgusting. People are very judgmental about such things – I’m thinking of the Donor party and an article I read that some of the survivors denied cannibalism because of the social attitudes and consequences for them.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I really enjoyed this post Jacquie. Some of these things I’ve been conscious of (the sudden silence of wildlife and insects, a sudden explosion of birds), but others I was clueless about. I knew you could gauge time by the sun, but I didn’t know how it was done. Fascinating!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What an interesting thing to think about! Knowledge is power. It’s only logical that people have learned from nature and animals. What we don’t know are how many different false assumptions people have made.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Excellent point. What would our kids do today without GPS? I used to love teaching a unit on mapping, but there isn’t much of a need for that other than having a sense of where things are in the world.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. We can learn do much in writing and reading. Jacqui. I’m fully aware when the forest goes silent. I know a predator might not be too far away. I can see cannibalism being easier to survive then but stilll…ick.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. The act of writing certainly is an education in itself. We learn so much as we do research. So much of it we can’t use in the book we are writing, but we can tuck it away for another story sometime. Some great bits of info here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is hard to believe–that wolves are gentle. Well, they are wild animals so ‘gentle’ is tempered with an instinct to survive. They’re not as docile as dogs, that’s for sure.

      Great way to but it, Balroop–KU!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Very interesting and fascinating, Jacqui! Another reason to read your books, not just for entertainment value, but to learn something. A few points you mention sound natural to me, to be in tune with nature and therefore ourselves. I haven’t worn a watch in twenty years (and I don’t have a phone), but I do admit to peeking at my Fitbit for the time a few times a week. 🙂

    I’m often aware of my surroundings, use most senses when out and about, and allow Maya to lick my face. Most times. 🙂 I like your tips about telling time from the sun, but I’d have a hard time knowing how far she moved to dictate fifteen minutes had passed. You need something to compare that position to, somehow.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Not your fault (peeking at the Fitbit). When everything around us runs on minutes, we have no choice but to wear a watch!

      As for Sun, the way Xhosa does it, she measures from the nearest horizon–where the sun rose or will set. Then, as it loses a finger, she knows she’s lost that much daylight.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hehee. We modern folk consider it weird. Xhosa is close enough to her mammalian roots to like it!

      Cannibalism–I was actually disappointed to uncover that in Xhosa’s destination. It’s not what I wanted to write about. Darn that research!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I am reading your newest novel, “Against All Odds” and understand what you have learned. Maybe our instincts would be sharper if we lived with fewer mental distractions. When I was a kid my brother and I would walk into the woods. We were aware of the snakes and critters. I loved the sound of the wind through the tall trees and smell of leaves, flowers and dirt. A slow walk in nature brings those images back to me. Loving your story. Will write a review when I complete reading it. Hugs…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Grace. “Slow walk in nature”–isn’t that true. Not a fast walk. You want to listen and smell. I’m reading about Enos Mills, a nature guide from the 1920’s. For him, it’s all about becoming part of nature, slowly, quietly. I love that.


  15. Hi Jacqui – we all need to learn these don’t we … the stars and the moon too; lots of remedies … and they’d have known them all – not us! Animals in their own environments are wonderful – dogs love to lick the salt off our skins – as many animals do in the wild … looking for salt licks.

    Cannibalism I guess is obvious after all we’re probably there … waiting to be killed by one of our own – desperate times … easy measures! Yes Farming hadn’t come into being at that stage … food was whatever was round and about at that time. We do need more lessons – and more people to listen and understand. Well done … so pleased for you … take care – Hilary

    Liked by 3 people

  16. There are countless tales of modern man doing all sorts of things to survive that the regular person would think terrible or gross. The Andes flight disaster comes to mind. I don’t think any of us know what we are capable of unless we are actually put in that position. The will to live is very strong.

    Liked by 3 people

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