In Robin Mukherjee’s The Art of Screenplays: A Writer’s Guide, I found the chapter entitled ‘Ideas’ very useful.
Making notes of small ideas, moments, characters, and not necessarily using them in solitude (if at all), but waiting for something else to gel with it to make it not just a thing but a story is a really useful concept. I’ve done this several times myself, but never consciously – reading a chapter in a book about doing such a thing makes it more concrete in my mind and something that I will definitely do more of in the future. Also, taking element A and taking a complete separate element B could potentially lead to more conflict and drama than just trying to plod on with element A on its own.
Mukherjee makes a point about making sure there is actually a story to tell before attempting to tell it, rather than flogging a dead horse:
Do you feel something move in the deeper, darker aspects of your understanding of what it is to be human? Or does it just feel like a device to get people running around for 90 minutes?
Discussions on ‘theme’ always interest me, as it’s something I’m trying more and more to incorporate into my scripts, but not something that I’ve necessarily been particularly successful with. The ‘disgruntled cat’ image certainly resonated with me, where Mukherjee takes the idea about a cat feeling jealous of the position a pet dog seems to hold within a family. This in itself is an idea, but there is also the theme of jealousy, which – between them – provides a story:
If theme is a territory of human experience, then it remains dark until we illuminate it. If the theme is jealousy, for instance, the idea might be a cat pained by the tribal supremacy afforded the family dog. The cat decides to usurp the position of its rival to become Supreme Pet. Thus, jealousy as an abstract – a dark area, if you like – is gradually illuminated as we shine our disgruntled cat around.
(Mukherjee, R. 2014, Art of Screenplays, Oldcastle Books, Harpenden.)