The Domino Effect

The first domino to fall sets off a chain reaction that will eventually bring the rest of the pieces tumbling down. In fiction, this is often referred to as the domino effect. Whether you are a pantser who writes off the cuff or plots your novel with a careful outline, understanding the importance of this phenomenon can help your story be more compelling.

A domino is a small rectangular block, thumb-sized or slightly larger, the face of which is divided into two parts, each bearing from one to six pips or dots resembling those on dice. A complete set of dominoes, also called a deck, contains 28 such tiles. A domino may be made from wood or plastic and is usually twice as long as it is wide.

Each domino has a value, which is the sum of all the numbers on one half of its face, or pip, and none on the other. A domino with the same number on both its ends is a double. The most common domino sets are double six and double nine. Larger sets exist, including some that have 91 or more tiles.

The rules of domino play vary, but most involve matching the ends of tiles and laying them down in lines and angular patterns. Each player in turn places a tile on the table, positioning it so that it touches one end of an existing domino chain or begins a new one. The end of a tile touching another domino with a matching number is said to be “stitched up.” Each completed domino chain is called a “slide.”

Dominos are used for many games, from simple ones such as drawing and blocking to complex ones such as scoring and constructing elaborate acrobatic chains. Players may also combine the basic rules to create new games.

Many people enjoy watching domino shows, where domino builders construct complicated structures that are then slammed and knocked down by spectators. These elaborate creations take hours to build and can require hundreds of tiles.

Some of these structures are so massive that they can take several nail-biting minutes to fall. The science behind them is not always easy to understand. A domino artist and engineer, Hevesh, explains that one of the most important elements in creating an impressive display is gravity.

Whether you are writing a fiction story or a nonfiction article, consider each scene as a domino. If you don’t think about these scenes in the same way as a domino chain, they can easily slip out of place or be pushed over by something else. Thinking about each scene in your story as a domino can help you keep them on track and make sure they lead to a satisfying end. For more information, visit our Wonder of the Day page on Domino Effects.