In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald he talks about how writing a novel is a process of evolution for him. He reveals that he began his new novel, Divisadero with a fragment of story someone told him in passing:
It was something about a horse that got loose in a barn and knocked down its owner. He wrote it down: a stormy night, an animal losing its mind, the girl in a heap on the floor. Gradually, the beginnings of a novel collected around those two pages; one girl turned into two, followed by a young man.So if you need a starting point for a story carry a notebook around with you and jot down those interesting snippets that you overhear, the stories that people tell you. You might just find the starting point you're looking for.
"It was a keyhole that allowed me to discover the rest of the book," he says now. "It was the opening." A landscape rose up to meet the horses, humming with insects and shimmering with grasses and, over five years' writing, the three people in the barn gradually revealed themselves to him. "I wasn't quite sure what any of them was like; they were all mysteries to me," he says. He didn't yet know that they had grown up together, that one limped, that one became a gambler.
"Some writers know exactly what their books are about when they begin," he says. "That seems incredibly boring to me. I am much more interested in how the writer evolves in the writing, so that the novel evolves as well." It was the same, he says, when he wrote his most famous novel, The English Patient. "I didn't know who the patient was: he was just the patient. He was a mystery to me. But then, as a book progresses, there is a kind of archaeology the writer performs on the characters; you work backwards.