In the formulation of any story, the devil is always in the details. This is true to every facet of the story. It's not enough to have a really smart plot, you have to make sure it all comes together in a way that's as flawless as possible. Characters have to be more than interesting, they have to become someone the audience feels as if they've known for a long time or wishes they had. Likewise, a setting isn't brilliant unless you've really sorted out the look of it in your own mind.
I've always found drawing the ideas helps me to formulate these things more completely. Once the character emerges from the pen, he or she becomes more real in my mind. For settings, I usually work from photographs or illustrations, using them as blueprints to build a picture of the world I want to describe.
Last week, I reviewed The Art of Monsters, Inc., a oversized picture book that explores this very process as it pertains to the development of that movie. In that book, I found an illustration that shows the artist trying to figure out how the control panel for the 'scream doors' should look. (pictured right). I thought these sketches perfectly illustrate the kind of process I'm talking about.
It would have been easy to simply have a bunch of buttons and switches and people probably wouldn't take too much notice. But this artist went the extra step. If he was going to put a button, he wanted to know what it did. And if you look closely, most of what was thought up on this slip of paper ended up being exactly how those doors actually worked.
You can see that as he tried to work out this little detail, he ended up figuring out how the entire process for what happens at the Monster's Scream Factory. This is the added benefit to spending the required time on something that would have been simple to skip over.
Attention to detail is the kind of thing that sets apart the truly great works of imagination and the ones that are simply good. If you really want to tell a story, don't cut corners. If you want anyone to believe it, you have to believe it first.