Creating a vivid setting in the reader's mind is paramount to excellent writing.
I've been thinking about setting recently and comparing some of my favorite authors. It's been interesting to note that their methods varied widely. =)
J.K. Rowling is hands-down one of the best at "world-building", which, to my mind, is more intricate and involved than merely creating a setting. What I love about her writing is that she just dives in without undo explanation and before you know it, you are captured by her voice, her world, and it unfolds in glorious brilliance in your mind. You find yourself unfazed by moving portraits, leaping chocolate frogs, and patronus' (is that the correct plural?) winging through the woods.
Rowling adds description at the beginning of each new location, sprinkles additional details between her dialogue, and, one of her best qualities, always tags on a phrase or two with the entrance of each character to ensure that the reader instantly identifies with each unique character on the scene.
Dean Koontz approaches setting with languid, lovely prose. He takes two pages at the beginning of a chapter to slowly build his scene and his gift is that his imagery is so captivating, the heavy description doesn't interrupt the flow of his writing. He is one of few writer's I've read where two pages of description never elicits an eye roll from me. He is the consumate story-teller, unafraid to take his time and talented enough not to waste mine.
J.D. Robb builds the setting for her In Death series in short, pithy observations from the POV of Eve, her main character. Since the series is set in the future, Robb skillfully weaves details (paying with credits, tubes of Pepsi, riding a glider, soy dogs) throughout her dialogue and action so that the reader is completely submerged in her futuristic world seamlessly and completely. There are few long paragraphs of description - that would hinder the pace of a murder mystery - so she carefully crafts sentences that deliver both setting and tone.
So, I'm curious. What works for you as a reader in creating a vivid setting in your mind? What do you admire in other authors? What do you use yourself?