Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writing for Effect: “Died” or “Killed”? by Flo Stanton

It’s not startling when someone merely dies, because as mortals we face that possibility every day. But killed? That implies action—drama—even malicious intent. According to your death certificate, you will have expired via either accidental, homicidal, suicidal, or natural means.

Murder is the most dramatic, of course:

“My brother was killed by a jealous boyfriend.” Or “My sister was killed in combat in Fallujah.”


“My daughter was killed by an overdose of sleeping pills.”

Even death in an accident is dramatic:

“My great aunt Rosie was killed when the train she was riding in crossed a bridge that collapsed and crashed into a raging river thirty feet below.”

You can make even a natural death sound dramatic:

“Cancer killed my mother when she was just 49.”

When you hear the word “killed,” it sends a little shiver up your spine. Slain. Executed. Assassinated. Implying so much more than “died.”

What other pairs of words have the same effect? Please share in the comments.

Flo Stanton’s stories, poetry and artwork have appeared in Gothic Tales of Terror, Ghosts Revenge, Traps, Studies in Scarlet, Tales of a Woman Scorned, A Pint of Bloody Fiction, Indiana Horror Review 2012, 2014 and 2015, Whispers of Wickedness, Static Movement, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, and many others. Her book reviews, literary articles, and true crime pieces have been featured in The Indianapolis Star, Castle Rock, Literally, True Police, Indiana Crime Review 2013 and 2014, the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine website, etc. 

She lives in Indianapolis with her writer/photographer husband John. You can find them stalking abandoned warehouses, factories, graveyards, and other haunted sites seeking macabre inspiration. Find out more about Flo at  or follow her blog at 

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At 11:04 AM, Blogger Paul McDermott said...

Nodding FULL agreement with every word Flo has written in this blog. I try to be as specific / explicit as I can in my choice of words when I'm writing - the nuance of difference between ''died" and "killed" is one easily-understood example. The range of synonyms available for other common adjectives is (potentially) without limits. And if you can't find PRECISELY the word you want? Like Edward Lear, or Willie Wonka (God rest you, Gene Wilder) you can always INVENT a word ...

At 10:32 AM, Blogger J Q Rose said...

How about a pair of words about eating? She ate the apple. She munched on the apple. She crunched into the apple.And in the case of this mystery author, I think my preference would be--The boyfriend "murdered" his lover's husband.Enjoyed the post, even if I am a bit late.


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