I recently re-watched the Overwatch animated short "Honor and Glory". You can tell the writers were proud of the line "Live with Honor, Die with Glory", as the characters say it a fair few times for such a short video.

I think it's a good line, even if they beat you over the head with it a bit too often, but I can't tell why. I think it's memorable enough for this short, but I don't know why people would like it or how it can be "inspirational", I guess.

Obviously this is a very surface level kind of memorable quote, there are hundreds of others that are more profound and famous, like "tears in rain". What makes such lines so memorable? How can I create my own?

  • What does creating a catchphrase have to do with character development, or storytelling for that matter? – Ash Nov 20 at 12:12
  • 2
    @Ash a good catchphrase can only be created by giving the right context. – Totumus Maximus Nov 20 at 12:18
  • 1
    @Ash, plenty, as my answer details; and besides, this site is about all the aspects of writing, including advertising which uses catch-phrases and slogans all the time. I know those are the tags the OP used, but it can be a useful question beyond that. – Amadeus Nov 20 at 12:18
  • 1
    @Amadeus Nope I really don't see it, a good catchphrase relies on good characterisation and storytelling to come off but does not, in itself, create either. I don't object to the question, although I feel it falls really close to asking what to write, just saying that the tags feel like they're being applied "backwards", for want of a better term, to me. – Ash Nov 20 at 12:24
  • @TotumusMaximus Yeah that's what I mean; a catchphrase needs a good existing story and characterisation but it doesn't constitute character development or storytelling. – Ash Nov 20 at 12:28

What makes such lines so memorable? How can I create my own?

An original twist with resonance, often combined with poetry, concision.

The "twist" is a surprise, but resonates with the sentiment. "Tears in the rain" has a twist: We see tears, but "in the rain" they vanish away; meaning a person is crying and expressing grief in public (outside, obviously) but nobody else knows. This is a poetic, concise way to express this feeling we sometimes have of private grief we hide from others.

Live with Honor, is the first part, an easy instruction, pablum really, because every normal person would like to believe they live with honor. Die with Glory is the twist in the command, but it resonates: The opposite of "living" is "dying", usually a tragedy. But now part of living with honor includes the courage to die, and not by running from it but by embracing it. Very few of us want to do that! But we expect our soldiers to be courageous and put their lives on the line; so this aphorism is for the elite that risk their lives; the twist resonates with (adds meaning to) the first part.

"Make My Day," by Dirty Harry, encouraging a criminal to draw on him, so he can kill him. This is just the twist: In the context of this scene, the twist is that in a dangerous situation Harry expresses the opposite of fear: He doesn't fear a shootout, he is eager for it, because it would give him an excuse to kill a criminal and he would enjoy that. None of that is in our conception of an ideal cop, so this is a twist on those expectations. And it resonates (or anti-resonates) with that ideal perfectly for the title character, Dirty Harry.

On top of that, "Make My Day" carries the connotation that even if Harry did kill the perp, he wouldn't care that much, he'd be happy for a day and forget it; on to kill the next crook.

That is why "Make My Day" would be better than "I Dare You".

It helps to have poetry. Not in the rhyming sense necessarily, but notice "Live With Honor" and "Die With Glory" are poetic choices, the same number of syllables with the same stresses, "Live/Die" are opposites, "Honor/Glory" are not opposites but are often used together elsewhere. (They are opposite in the sense that Honor feels more passive and Glory feels more actively heroic).

Related to poetry is concision; being brief. Poets can pack a lot of meaning into a handful of words. Concision is critical to a catch-phrase. Not at the expense of clarity, but the shorter the message, the more punch it has. The typical conversational speaking rate is 2 words per second (2.5 in some cultures / cities, like NYC, 1.5 in other cultures / cities, like the American South).

So as a rule of thumb I'd say your catch phrase should be six words (3 seconds) or less, perhaps seven words. There are studies, in advertising, on the efficacy of slogans and on the words in a headline for an ad or letter. Studying just the number of words, these droop when going from six words to seven, and drop off dramatically going from seven to eight words. There are some exceptions that may be related to poetics (rhyming, rhythm, single syllable words). But as a rule of thumb, keep it short and sweet. And, of course, it should be easy to say, a tongue twister is not a good catch-phrase; and it should not require any thought to understand it. So a puzzle or double entendre is probably not a good catch-phrase if the dimmer half of us might not get the joke. (You should certainly use those elsewhere in dialogue, just not as your iconic phrase.)

Inventing a good catch-phrase is worth weeks of work, which may seem odd for a six word phrase, but in some works, that catch phrase becomes iconic, and the one thing readers take away verbatim from your writing, that means only your writing. If it is good and people use it, it can become a free advertisement for your work.

If your story can use one, it is worth working on.

  • 2
    I agree with the above but you can reinforce by going to classical (Roman/Greek oratory stylistics): Specifically "LwH,DwG" is a parallellism, twice a verb+(with)+noun. Hence you could go for alliterration (Bomb the B#st#rds!) or rhyme*. Or the Rule of Three ("Veni, vidi, vici"). In encouragements they give a feel of inevitability, destiny, as they're so ingrained I think. [*It always stings me that people accept rhyming "wisdom" as reasonable, at face value; "if the glove does fit, you must acquit!" or any number of sayings about the weather: "No, really, it doesn't follow!!".] – user3445853 Nov 21 at 14:24
  • @user3445853 +1, All good ideas. – Amadeus Nov 21 at 14:40

The power of a memorable one-liner is not the contents itself but rather the context in which it was said.

Consider this.

From out of nowhere your mother shouts: "Live with honor, die with glory!"

What does this mean to you? Does this weird you out, is it inspirational, is it meant to be funny? Will you investigate why she said what she said? Does it fit the scene?

All of this matters to make a one-liner powerful and memorable. If you want to write your own powerful one-liner, you will have to set the right scene.

The movie you were watching probably had lots of actionscenes and spectacular moves which you would have found awesome to see. These one-liners added to that affect on you. In a written story you don't have these imageries automatically. For such an effect in a story you will have to describe the scene, add the one-liner, and then the change it made on a character or scene.

  • +1 because my Granny just shouted "So say we all!" then left to fight the Cylons. – wetcircuit Nov 20 at 17:17
  • 3
    "Better to die on our feet than live on our knees." - Monica Lewinsky – Beanluc Nov 20 at 22:29
  • 1
    I now know what I'm going to say when my kid goes off to college. I pat his shoulder, pull him into a big hug, then whisper, "Live with honor, die with glory," and just leave. – IchabodE Nov 21 at 17:46
  • @IchabodE Yep exactly the point I wanted to make. You just gave meaning to the one-liner by adding some context. Now how well it is received is by the receiving end of the line or the observer. – Totumus Maximus Nov 22 at 8:29

What makes this phrase meaningful is that it sums up a particular philosophy --the philosophy of these characters and their subculture --in a form that is both brief and meaningful.

If you look at famous philosophers, most of them had their life's work condensed by history into a single pithy quote or paraphrase. "I know only that I know nothing" (Socrates). "I think, therefore I am" (Descartes). "Take the leap of faith," (Kierkegaard). Conversely, maybe it's that we tend to remember only the philosophers whose work can be summed up this way.

If you want your character's catchphrase to be memorable, make it meaningful.

  • Well, Nietzsche's thoughts can't be condensed in a single quote. And he is quite memorable. – rus9384 Nov 22 at 10:52

The most memorable lines seem organic and natural to both character and situation. There must be a context or it will look and feel out of place - like a motivational poster in the middle of a battlefield.

The ‘Live with Honour, Die with Glory’ line could well be the unit motto and uttered as both a reminder of unity and call for courage in battle as their brothers in arms had shown in the past.

Such a line must contain truth, if only for the character in that situation.

John Burgon’s immortal line ‘a rose red city half as old as time’ is memorable for its beauty and simplicity. It is a wonderful way to say that something is truly ancient.

Sometimes a memorable line is so because of circumstance and wordplay as with Franklin’s ‘We must, indeed,hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately’. Since Franklin’s was a response to a comment, little time was spent crafting it, but it remains and is oft quoted.

How will you craft your own brilliant and memorable line? Find a character who might say something fascinating and put him in situations until he does.

When I am reading something, I often will linger on a paragraph or reread a section that has a particular resonance or beauty - perhaps both. Much of Les Miserables is like that - Hugo describes how a person who remembers Paris remembers not just the streets down which they walked, but those they never passed, homes they entered and more they never even saw, for even that which one did not experience colours and shapes them and is remembered. The beauty of the prose and the profundity of the thought held me there.

The best lines come naturally, part of the whole and inspired by what preceded and what shall follow.

The best advice I ever read on creating memorable lines was:

In literature, the charm of style is indefinable, yet all-subduing, just as fine manners are in social life. In reality, it is not of so much consequence what you say, as how you say it.

Memorable sentences are memorable on account of some single irradiating word.

by the famous poet Alexander Smith in Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country. It's in chapter II, "On The Writing of Essays", p. 42 (the linked volume was published 1906, though Smith died in 1867, so I'm not sure when he wrote it).

It can be found in your favorite book of quotations (e.g. Bartlett's), if you want, but you know how I find it whenever I need it? I google irradiating word :)

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.