This is an exercise I got from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich. The idea is to practice prose by writing two sets of descriptions. This is the second part of the exercise, which is to take some extraordinary or strange, and describe in familiar terms.
The only thing that makes this animal truly alarming is its size. Otherwise it is a conglomeration of a few simpler organisms and objects already found in nature. Its most distinguishing feature is its outer-top layer of protection. Instead of skin, it possesses an array of dense, hard scales. Very much like a fish, the scales overlap which protects the flesh from being pierced while allowing the animal to move. Also like the scales of fish, this animal’s scales can be dull or shiny, and can come in a wide array of colors. If the scales work like the shingles of a roof, then the animal’s underside could be compared to a hardwood floor. Along the animal’s belly run long strips of skin, which are re-enforced with cartilage. It’s essential for the animal to have an elastic but strong belly for its digestive system to work properly. This animal uses fire to break down large chunks of food, in the same way that humans have stomach acid. The strong belly must be able to prevent ulcers, which would be detrimental to its health, but must be flexible enough to allow the animal to expel excess flames. This animal will need to expel any excess from once a month to several times a day, depending on its diet.
While these creatures are territorial, they are not inherently aggressive. They were believed to be predatory because less civilized cultures would inadvertently enter the animal’s territory and be attacked. However, whenever this animal was acclimated to certain humans or permitted small settlements in its territory, it could become fiercely protective. Still, this is a wild animal and contact should be limited. Being so territorial, this animal is rarely seen with other members of its species. These creatures interact only during their mating season, which appears to be once every decade.
From a distance, the heat is comforting. It’s the kind of heat that lightly touches your face, like the heat from a bonfire, or from the opening of an oven-door. Both similes are accurate, because it comes from outside and can flare like a bonfire; but it is produced by something opening, something unlocking—a sharp strike and it opens into that sort of heat. And both bonfires and ovens can be dangerous.
If you look at it dispassionately—and you don’t think of the collateral damage it will cause, and that its predecessors have caused—then it’s also kind of pretty. The orange hues fading into a dusk, then gray and dark—it’s like the burst of a man-made sunset. The clouds it produces are lovely. They grow like cumulous clouds from the earth. You could maybe detect shapes in them, like on a lazy summer day. Except you don’t have to lay down and get grass stains on your clothes—instead you stand on the desert floor to spot rabbits, flowers, or species of fish.
If only they weren’t made for destruction. They could be instruments for nostalgia instead of instruments of war. You pack them up, drop them in a place where no one gets hurt, and suddenly all the spectators are reminded of roasting marshmallows by a campfire; baking with Grandma during the winter holidays; sitting under a blanket watching the dying glow of a sunset; or being a child again during a summer of pool trips, root-beer floats, and the lazy use of imagination while lying and watching the clouds roll by—all in a single instant.
The first section describes a dragon, the second an explosion made by a bomb.