When I was about ten years old, I loved the late-1970s TV show Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. The program, later re-titled Black Sheep Squadron, starred Robert Conrad as Pappy Boyington, a real-life WWII American Ace fighter pilot. I used to dream of flying in his shoes, expertly piloting Corsair-AFUs in combat, then landing to generous portions of scotch-fueled camaraderie and romance. Each episode majestically powered my imagination — a very good thing for a writer.
Imagining implausible connections. That the events portrayed in Black Sheep were not authentic in every detail didn’t matter. I connected with the sense of heroism (as portrayed) and still do. Incidentally, the ability to connect stories to real life in ways that aren’t actually “real” is writer territory. Being able to engage readers in the “theater of the mind” is basic training for writers whose mission is to create effective advertising copy.
*The title of this article refers to a scene from the TV show, Black Sheep Squadron, wherein the main character’s plane is still flying, but badly damaged after a dogfight. The Japanese pilot, rather than shoot down a defenseless rival, taunts him saying something like, “Happy landings, Boyington!” Years later, I discovered the actual phrase was different. Turns out, despite repeating the line incorrectly for years, the exact dialogue doesn’t matter. Sometimes, it takes more than words to change the meaning.
- Pigs “do” fly. In the writer’s mind, anything is possible. And often, it makes for brilliant advertising. However, just because you can make pigs fly doesn’t mean you should. Just about everyone has seen the ad where a pig files an auto claim from a commercial airplane. Of course, once you’ve seen it, you can’t forget the message no matter how hard you try.
- Is this anything? Having your concept shot down is never any fun. But, in defense of those firing the missiles, it’s all been done before. Truly original ideas are exceedingly rare, but taking an existing idea and making it better than it ever was is usually within reach. If you’re a writer and you think you’ve got something great, try to distance yourself a bit and ask, “Is this anything?” Answer honestly, jettison the half-baked concepts, and restock the good ones.
- Great ideas are never lost. Dozens of stories about stranded Japanese soldiers fighting the war long after it was over exist. On occasion, we writers do the same thing, continuing the battle even though the outcome has been decided. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. Collect your thoughts and head for home.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.
Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.
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