How do I write Description?

I’ve been working on a novel lately.  I really want to finish this one!  Even if it is completely awful.  I’ve written chapter one (which starts out great, and ends with a poorly written bar scene).  Now I’m on chapter two!  Hooray for progress!

I’ve realised that I am not very good at writing description.  I forget to even put it in!  It’s probably because I’ve read a lot of classics, which do description well, but I know by today’s standards they are rather excessive.

My dad told me, when I was eight years old and just starting to write, that I should describe my characters’ looks right away in the first chapter.  But I’ve swung the other way–perhaps too far–and I don’t think a physical description is always necessary.  I’ve been trying to work descriptions into the story naturally, instead of writing a list of attributes like, “Eddie was 6’3″, muscular, with bright blue eyes and blond hair, thinning slightly…” (Nope, that’s not the hero.  That’s one of the villains!)

Then there is setting.  I do believe that describing the setting can be very important.  That’s where I have the most trouble.  I don’t want to use clichés, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be too off-the-wall all the time.  I need practice, I think.  And I need to read more really good fiction.

What are your favourite books or authors that use description well?

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