My writing process is a bit of a mystery, even to me.  I have never been able to plot a novel out ahead of time. I started out writing literary fiction and had a couple of literary novels successfully published in Canada. I have always been a fan of crime fiction and had always wanted to write a thriller, but I was intimidated by the plotting. I thought thrillers, with their intricate plots, had to be properly outlined and planned ahead of time. So I didn’t think I could do it.

Author Shari Lapena credit Tristan Ostler

Author Shari Lapena credit Tristan Ostler

However, I decided I wanted to try writing a thriller in the same way that I wrote my earlier novels, which was essentially just making it up as I go—writing by the seat of my pants. (Hence the term ‘pantser’.)

So I sat down and wrote The Couple Next Door with no idea of what was going to happen once that couple left their baby at home and went to the dinner party with the baby monitor. It just grew from there. Somehow the ideas come, the conflicts appear, the characters grow, twists arise and a satisfying end presents itself. I attribute this to the subconscious mind.

No one was more surprised than me that I was able to write a thriller that way.

So, my writing process seems to work for me. I have since learned that there are other writers of thrillers and crime fiction who don’t plot things out ahead, but let the idea take them where it wants to go; I’m certainly not the only one. If I’d known that years ago, I might not have put off writing a thriller for so long.

I always start with an idea that grabs me—for my latest novel, The End of Her, it was a news story I read online about a man who was shovelling his car out of a snowbank while his wife and child waited in the running car. They died, tragically, of carbon monoxide poisoning. It was obviously a tragic accident, but being a thriller writer, I thought—if you wanted to get rid of your family, what a brilliant way to do it. That was the germinating idea for The End Of Her—because it would be so hard to tell—was it an accident? Or was it the perfect murder? Once I had that idea, the story and characters just began to build.

As far as characters go, I don’t write charts of character traits and so on. When I start, I don’t know who they are. I put them in difficult positions and watch what they say and do and think. The characters are confronted by conflicts in the plot, then they act in some way which drives the plot along. It’s all very organic.

Of course, writing by the seat of my pants, I spend a lot of time in revision. I juggle a lot of possibilities while I’m writing and by the end, the proper ending presents itself. I do have to go back and rewrite significantly. But the first draft is always an exploration of all the possibilities.

Shari Lapena


Shari's book 'The End Of Her is released by Publishers Penguin Random House 23rd July

Tthe Book:

A long-ago accident and a visitor from out of the blue

Stephanie and Patrick are adjusting to life with their colicky twin girls. The babies are a handful, but even as Steph struggles with the disorientation of sleep deprivation, there’s one thing she is sure of – she has all she ever wanted.

Then Erica, a woman from Patricks past, appears and makes a disturbing accusation. Patrick had always said his first wife’s death was an accident, but now Erica knows things about Patrick – things that make Stephanie question her husband. As Stephanie’s trust in Patrick starts to falter Patrick stands to lose everything. Is Patrick telling the truth - is Erica the persuasive liar Patrick says she is? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake?