Oddly enough, I just had a big conversation with a bunch of the OWWers (including tanaise, cpolk, palinade, and retrobabble) about this exact thing last night: katallen had an epiphany which she was supposed to blog, and hasn't, so I can't just point you at it, but essentially it had to do with what papersky calls 'mode,' and what John Gardner calls the 'fictional dream,' and all those other very high level syntheses that relate to where a story stops being a pile of words and becomes a story.
Beginning and intermediate writers often want critiques that will 'make a story publishable,' or they want critiques on the idea, 'not the grammar,' or whatever. What it takes a while for any writer to learn, I think, is that you can't take any of those things out of the story and still have a story. And you can't change any of them and still have the same story.
Which is what we're talking about: or more precisely, you're talking about the story and the rest of us are talking about the building blocks, currently.
Once I figured out what Kat was getting at (and she's brilliant. brilliant), I went back to the old metaphor I always wind up using of a house. The beginning writer comes to the pro writer or editor and says, 'critique my story,' when what he has is a pile of story parts.
In other words, if he were building a house, he'd have some bricks and some cement and some boards and some nails and some wires and stuff....
And the pro--or more advanced--or older and bloodier-nosed--writer comes along and says, "You don't have a house. You have a pile of boards and shingles."
And if he gets it, the new writer starts seeing what the old writer means, and starts swinging hammers around randomly, and knocks together a shack. And he asks the old writer, "How do you like my house?"
And the old writer sighs and says, "Well, it stands up, but there's a lot of stuff that doesn't work here, and if I tug this board that's sticking out it'll go right over in a strong wind."
And the new writer curses and swears and says, "But you're looking at the boards, not the house!"
And the old writer says, "If I can see the boards, it's not a house yet."
And the new writer goes, "God dammit all to hell!" And he builds a lot more shacks. And they all look like houses to him--here's the tricky thing, and the key to Kat's epiphany which she has not blogged yet--because he can see what the house is supposed to look like in his head. And it takes time and distance to see how the shack he's built doesn't match the house in his head.
And the new writer starts messing with blueprints and learns how to swing a hammer and how to measure and how to paint... either consciously, through applied effort, or subconsciously, through repetition and practice--or both.... depending on if he's an analytical thinker or an inductive one...
And one day, if he keeps pushing himself, he gets a house.
And the thing about the house is, you can't really see the nails and the boards and the craftsmanship any more. And then the writer has 'found his voice,' or 'found his stories' and he's not a beginning writer any more. He's a pro, or close to it.
Which is why, in some ways, it's easier to learn how not to do things wrong by looking at bad writing, because the mistakes are obvious in a shack, but somebody who can build a house has learned to paint over them.
Learning to do things right, however, is best learned from noticing what other writers do really well, and practice. Lots and lots of practice, to train the muscle memory in. The old 'million words of shit' or 'now go write for ten years' thing.
So essentially, what you're describing (if I understand you) is coming at the process from the other end--from visualizing the house first. Which is also cool, indeed. because there are a thousand ways to do this, and all of them are right if they work.
A quarter of a million miles isn't really that far.
It took me two Chevys, but I've done it in my car.