The Domino Effect

Dominoes are cousins of playing cards and among the oldest tools for game play. From professional domino-game competitions to family-friendly domino constructions, these clay-like tiles create beautiful patterns when they fall. When a domino is set up in the correct sequence and tipped ever-so-slightly, all the others follow suit, creating a cascade known as the Domino Effect. In writing, the term domino also refers to any action that cascades from one scene to the next, a key element of any story.

Dominos are marked on both sides with an arrangement of dots, called pips, which are identically patterned or blank (indicated by a zero). The pips on a domino show its identity as either a number or a suit. The most common domino sets are double six and double nine. There are larger sets available, but they are used for more advanced and complex games.

In domino shows, builders set up hundreds or even thousands of dominoes in careful succession, all ready to topple with the tiny nudge of just one. Hevesh, the world-famous domino artist, follows a version of the engineering-design process as she works to create her mind-blowing setups.

She considers the theme of the installation, brainstorms images and words that might go with it, then comes up with a plan for how she wants to achieve it. When she starts working on the design, Hevesh lays out the pieces in the proper order so that they can be connected to each other in the most efficient way possible. She then adds the details, such as adding a curved line or a grid that will form a picture when the dominoes fall.

When she’s satisfied with her work, Hevesh tests out the first domino by placing it against a wall and nudging it slightly. When the first domino falls, all the energy stored in it is released. The potential energy converts into kinetic energy, and that kinetic energy is transmitted to the next domino, providing the push it needs to fall over as well. The energy continues transmitting from domino to domino until the last domino falls, completing the domino effect.

The Domino Effect also applies to other areas of life, such as the way in which one event can cause a chain reaction that affects many other things. Domino’s pizza example is classic: When one store has an accident in its delivery fleet, it can result in multiple accidents for other delivery companies. In turn, this can lead to more delivery companies taking on unsafe drivers and lowering the overall quality of customer service.

Whether you’re a “pantser” who doesn’t use an outline or a plotting tool like Scrivener, or a “plotter” who works out a detailed outline before beginning to write your novel, the question of what will happen next is at the core of all fiction. Understanding how the Domino Effect applies to your plot can help you craft a more compelling, dynamic story.