Music in Fiction Writing + the Songs Behind CLEAVED

Music in Fiction Writing + Songs Behind CLEAVED Writing can be a lot like method acting. It’s not always easy to jump into a character’s skin unless they’re similar to us. So what are some ways to become that character in order to write from their perspective? Music tops the list.

Everyone has been moved by music at one point in their lives. Often times, it propels us back to a certain place or era. By listening to the music our characters love, we can tap into the emotion of the scene. This becomes especially important when writing the opposite sex.

To celebrate my new release, let’s use Sage and Niko Quintano as the example. Their marriage is nothing like mine. Bob and I spend most of our time laughing and razzing each other. Anyone who knows us has heard me say, “I’ll cut you, man.” Or “Don’t make me kick your ass in front of your friends.” Which always gets a laugh due to our size difference. We also have our own version of a high-five as well as certain expressions we say in unison (usually stolen from movies). I do call him “Pup” like Sage calls Niko, and he’s as supportive as Niko when it comes to my writing career, but other than a few minor details that’s where the similarities end.

Because Bob and I have so much fun, even after twenty years together, writing about a marriage filled with secrets isn’t easy. Here’s where music really helps.

While writing CLEAVED, I listened to several key songs to trigger the right mood. To prevent this post from taking forever to load I’ve only included a few videos. The others I linked. Incidentally, I can no longer listen to any of these songs without being reminded of certain scenes. That’s one hazard to keep in mind. Oh, also, most lyrics are copyrighted. We can use the song title — Sage loves to change Niko’s ringtone to get her point across — but not the lyrics without written permission from the artist.

To write Niko I used the following songs…

Down on Bended Knee by Boys II Men

Just Once by James Ingram

How to Keep the Music Playing by James Ingram and Patti Austin

So, clearly, Niko royally screws up in CLEAVED, and he’s destroyed by it.

Inherently, men want to fix things. They think in terms of what to do, but sometimes, a circumstance is so severe there is no fixing it. When men and women find themselves in these types of situations they react differently. Music allows us to tap into those differences. We can hear it in the lyrics.

Sage loves the Eagles, but for CLEAVED, I needed more powerful music…

Hurt by Christina Aguilera (this song brings me tears every time I hear it)

It Matters to Me by Faith Hill

Hello by Adele

Dreamer by Ozzy Osborne

We Don’t Talk Anymore by Charlie Puth and Samantha Harvey

This next song I listened to over and over, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why…

How Am I Supposed to Live Without You by Michael Bolton

Are you sensing a theme here? Like MARRED, CLEAVED is a psychological thriller/mystery that’s very emotional. Maybe even more so than MARRED. Music allowed me to tap into these emotions. By the time I finished writing the first draft, I felt emotionally spent. Sure, I’ve made myself uncomfortable before — diving into oil drum was no picnic — but certain scenes demanded even more from me. If I didn’t immerse myself, if I stayed detached, the story would suffer. Hence, why writing can be so personal. Whether readers realize it or not, we often bare our souls in our books. I have hunch they do notice, but I can only speak from my experience as a reader.

I’m curious what your views are on the subject.

CLEAVED by Sue Coletta

While writing, I can’t listen to music — I end up singing along and totally lose my train of thought — but I do stop writing in order to play different songs. What I can listen to during the writing process are background noises. YouTube is filled with these types of videos, from swampland sounds to owls and other predators. I mentioned a few in my Pets in Fiction post. Here are a few more I listened to while writing CLEAVED

Swamp at night

Owl sounds (includes other birds too)

Marshland wildlife

Coyotes (wicked eerie)

What’s CLEAVED about?

Author Sage Quintano writes about crime. Her husband Niko investigates it. Together they make an unstoppable team. But no one counted on a twisted serial killer, who stalks their sleepy community, uproots their happy home, and splits the threads that bond their family unit.

Darkness swallows the Quintanos whole—ensnared by a ruthless killer out for blood. Why he focused on Sage remains a mystery, but he won’t stop till she dies like the others.

Women impaled by deer antlers, bodies encased in oil drums, nursery rhymes, and the Suicide King. What connects these cryptic clues? For Sage and Niko, the truth may be more terrifying than they ever imagined.

* * *

Rather than create a regular book trailer, I did something a little different. While narrating an excerpt I used pieces of my research videos (locations that appear in the book), scattered images (I’ll let you figure out the who, what, and why they’re there), and shot new video of the area since the scene took place on the exact same day (different year, though).

For the full effect watch on full-screen mode.

CLEAVED is now available! Universal link to Amazon:

For other book sellers, go HERE.

If you’d like to read the first chapter, you can find it HERE.

If you haven’t read MARRED, Book 1 in the Grafton County Series, you can find it HERE. Or read the first chapter HERE.

If you’re a writer, do you use music to help you nail the emotion of the scene? As a reader, do some authors make you wonder if certain scenes might be real, or certain scenes might hit too close to home?

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. Love this!! I enjoy when you share your inspirations. Can’t wait to read Cleaved.

  2. I can listen to music when I edit but not when writing. Nice to see an insight into your book, Sue!

  3. This sounds like a winner, Sue. All the best with it. 🙂 — Suzanne

  4. I like the trailer. I’ve never used one before, but have thought about it. I’d need to hire an actress to make the one I want. I used to listen to classical music while writing. My wife complained, so that ended. Now I write to the dulcet tones of bulldog snores.

  5. I love listening to music and I do use instrumental music when I write, but like you I can’t listen to anything with lyrics, or I start bopping along with the song. I’ve tried to listen to ambient background noises like you have listed above, but my cat is usually with me when I write. She freaks out thinking there are frogs and crickets in the room, LOL.

    P.S….hubby and I have favorite movie lines we toss out too, and inside jokes. So much fun!

    Congrats again on CLEAVED.
    LOVE your banner image for it!

    • Thanks, Mae! To save your cat’s sanity use headphones. 😀

      Maybe movie lines and secret jokes are a writer thing. You guys really need a secret handshake or high-five. So fun! Over the years we kept adding to it, so now it’s a big production. LOL

  6. What an interesting insight into your inspiration for Cleaved, Sue! I love music, too, and it often moves me. So I can completely see how you would use it to spark your own creativity. Oh, and about movie lines? My husband and I do the same thing. We’re always quoting lines from films (or sometimes, lyrics from songs) to each other. Other people mostly look at us funny and then move slowly away… 😉

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