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fbook icon 60What Makes a Good Tagline?

 

As a movie buff, I’ve always been fascinated by taglines (aka ‘straplines’, ‘shoutlines’, ‘teasers’). Whenever I arrive early for a film, I buy a ticket and a choc-top and wander around the foyer, eating my ice-cream and looking at the various posters for current and forthcoming releases. Invariably I linger over the tagline on each of the posters as though it’s a puzzle waiting to be solved.

My all-time favourite movie teaser would have to be for the ‘Jaws’ sequel:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .

It’s a great line, isn’t it? Even though we know we’re going to be scared out of our wits, we just can’t wait! And then there’s this one for ‘The First Wives’ Club’

Don’t get mad. Get everything.

No need for an explanation – those two short sentences say it all. 

Not so long ago I went to see the film version of ‘Gone Girl’:

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s …

The creator of this teaser (and I wonder if it was the author/screenwriter, Gillian Flynn) has taken the old cliché and replaced the key word ‘gone’ with an ellipsis. Suddenly the age-old catchphrase becomes fraught with mystery and suspense – just like the film itself.

If you start to examine taglines, whether they’re for books or films, you’ll discover the best ones are conceptual rather than specific. By that I mean they’re not a mini-summary of the plot, but a comment on the over-arching premise, theme or idea. A good tagline will be short, pithy and memorable. If it contains several levels of meaning or some clever word play, all the better. But its main purpose is to tantalise. That's why taglines usually end with that most tantalising of punctuation marks - the ellipsis.

Now, taking an example from closer to home, here’s the very clever tagline for Margareta Osborn’s novel, ‘Mountain Ash’:

In matters of the heart, she’s playing with fire …

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I won’t spoil it for you by supplying an explanation. You’ll appreciate how clever this really is when you read the book.

As for myself, I can’t settle into a manuscript until I have two things in place – a good title and a strong tagline. In the case of ‘Mr Chen’s Emporium’, my initial premise became the book’s tagline:

Two women, one Gold Rush town, then and now…

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Admittedly the phrase tends to be more concrete than abstract, but it does tell you everything you need to know: the protagonists are females from different eras, there’s a country setting and the story will encompass time shifts.

In its German incarnation, ‘Mr Chen’s Emporium’ gained a new identity altogether - a title change to ‘Amys Geheimnis’ (or ‘Amy’s Secret’), a completely different cover and a new tagline, albeit with echoes of my original wording:

Two women, a long forgotten story and the insatiable longing for happiness. . .

Perhaps more of a mini-synopsis than a tagline.

For ‘A Place of Her Own’ my publisher chose a quote from the text itself:

Unrequited love hurts like hell – whether you’re fifteen or fifty.

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That sentence tells a prospective reader two important things – 1) the protagonist is an older woman and 2) there’s going to be a whole lot of heartbreak.

The tagline for my next novel, ‘The Trivia Man’ is a metaphor of wishful thinking:

If only his life was a quiz . . .

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That phrase conveys a longing for certainty, while hinting at an inability to cope with the open-ended nature of life and all its ambiguities. I hope it whets your appetite for reading the book. After all, that’s the role of a good tagline!

‘The Trivia Man’ will be released 1 June 2015.


Deborah O’Brien

23 March 2015