Taglines Make Characters Memorable

by Dax MacGregor
Taglines or catch phrases make it easy for readers to remember a character. When they are done right, even years later, we recall the character with clarity.

Taglines or catch phrases make it easy for readers to remember a character.  That’s because repetition creates lasting memories.

Allow me to convince you of the effectiveness of this writing technique by playing a game.  I’ll list a catch phrase, you guess the character. (I know some are from television — and some from movies that were never books; but the same principle applies.)

I'll be back.

The Terminator in The Terminator

Shaken, not stirred.

James Bond


Vizzini in The Princess Bride

Scotty, beam me up.

Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek series.

I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.

HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Show me the money.

Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire. I’ll bet you named the movie (and probably the actor, Cuba Gooding, Jr.) but not the character on this one.

My precious.

Gollum (aka Sméagol) in The Lord of the Rings series.

You killed my father. Prepare to die!

Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. “Foul!” I hear you cry. “That’s two from the same movie.” Yes, you are correct. But it’s my all-time favorite movie. And, yes, I have the abridged book by William Goldman, and it is good, but it is not my favorite book.

So how do you invent taglines for your story’s characters. And, once you do, how do you insert them into dialogue without sounding contrived?

Well, that’s the art.

If you have ideas or techniques to share, please tell us in the comment section below.

Oh, and just for the fun of it, I’m sure I missed some of your favorite characters’ taglines. If so, list them below.



  1. Steve

    Not many reading this would recognize it, but you should: “Do what’s right for kids.”

    • Dax Macgregor

      Love it! Perhaps a few years from now everyone will recognize him.

  2. Louise Broadbent

    It’s true that taglines make characters easier to remember but surely it’s both a gimmick and lazy to use. Characters should be memorable for being awesome characters, not for having a catchphrase.

    • Dax Macgregor

      Louise, thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      I agree. A writer has to develop the character primarily through their actions and dialogue.

      When used alone, taglines becomes a device. But, I believe, it can be used to compliment other techniques of character development to further the reader’s image of the character.

      Some examples:

      • Edgar Allan Poe’s raven speaketh but one word, “Nevermore.”
      • Lewis Carroll’s Alice says “Oh, dear.” a number of times.
      • Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Blackbeard intimidates everyone when he sings “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum,” repeated.
  3. kristal lee

    You picked great taglines to demonstrate your point. I haven’t used verbal taglines. Generally I give a character a distinct body language cue. After reading your post I’m swayed to incorporate taglines into my current WIP.

    • Dax MacGregor

      Hi, Kristal!

      Thanks for the compliment — and for taking time to comment.

      Please stop back and let me know how well this works for you.

      btw, I like your name! The main character of my novel-in-progress is named similarly: Krystal. (Of course, that’s just one of the names she uses.)

  4. Patrick Thunstrom

    While catch phrases are definitely a good device for association, I wonder if perhaps the more lasting catchphrases are lasting because of the rest of the character?

    “My Precious” for example would not have been a lasting catchphrase if that was literally the only thing Smeagol was known for. But his single-minded determination, along with his peculiar speech patterns really make the repeated line have quite a bit more weight than the words themselves have.

    This is true of all the lines you mentioned, which perhaps hint at what the ‘art’ of the catch-phrase is. It’s like the book’s log line, a quick reference to the entirety of the character.

    • Dax MacGregor


      As you and Louise point out, using a catchphrase by itself would appear gimmicky and amateurish to any reader.

      This is simply another tool to add to our repertoire for painting characters using words.

      By the way, I enjoyed the post on your blog for today, especially the strange quark song. (Yes I’m a geek who is into physics, too.)


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