The Domino Effect

Dominoes, cousins to playing cards and the ancient Chinese game of go, represent one of humanity’s oldest tools for generating games and challenging both patience and skill. Originally designed to replicate the results of rolling two dice, dominoes are arranged edge to edge in rows, each domino bearing an identity-bearing side and a blank or identically patterned side. Normally twice as long as they are wide, each domino has a line down the center that divides it visually into two squares. Each square features an arrangement of spots (also known as pips) ranging in value from six to 0 or blank, allowing players to identify and match dominoes by their total number of pips.

Like most things in life, dominoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Some sets are made from more conventional polymer materials such as resin, styrene or acrylic plastic; others from wood (usually a dark color such as ebony), stone (such as marble, granite or soapstone); metals (such as brass or pewter); and even glass or crystal. In addition to traditional block and scoring games, many dominoes can be used to construct more artistic or abstract arrangements.

For example, in the 1960s, Nick Monaghan, an amateur woodworker living in Ypsilanti, Michigan developed a method for making dominoes using only the tools in his grandmother’s garage—a drill press, radial arm saw, scroll saw and belt sander. His dominoes were more attractive than those of competitors, and he found that his customers appreciated his willingness to take risks. In fact, one of the company’s core values is “Champion Our Customers,” and Monaghan and other executives were always willing to listen to their customers’ complaints and then quickly put changes into place.

Similarly, when it comes to writing a story, the “domino effect” refers to any scene that leads to the next scene, and a great deal of planning can be involved. In order for a domino effect to work, the scenes must not only be timed properly (either farther from or closer to the story’s goal) but also must be spaced so that readers aren’t overwhelmed by too much information or minutiae in one scene before they see the next.

But more importantly, a story must have an arc that takes the hero from point A to point B, thereby providing the reader with some sense of what the ultimate goal might be and how the hero got there. The best stories are often characterized by a logical sequence of events that lead to the climactic confrontation or resolution, and the “domino effect” provides a simple way to help you create such a sequence. Whether you’re an off-the-cuff writer or an overly careful plotter, thinking about the structure of your story in terms of the domino effect can help you create a more cohesive and compelling narrative.