A small rectangular wood or plastic block, usually twice as long as it is wide, with a line across its face to divide it visually into two squares, each marked with an arrangement of spots (or “pips”) that resemble those on a die. Each end of the domino is marked with a value, typically one to six in the most popular variant, but in some sets they may have no pips at all, or they may have double-blank ends. The total value of a domino, indicated by the number of pips on both ends, may be used to determine scoring in certain games.
We’ve all seen impressive domino constructions where, after the first piece is tipped ever-so-slightly, all the others fall in an orderly cascade of rhythmic motion. It’s a wonderful demonstration of the “domino effect,” in which a single simple action can result in a series of much greater, and sometimes catastrophic, consequences.
It’s a lesson that can be useful in our daily lives as well. Whether you’re a business leader trying to motivate your team, or a novelist striving to keep your readers engaged, a knowledge of the domino effect can help you plan and execute your ideas.
Physicist Stephen Morris explains the concept of the domino effect in a straightforward way: “When you stand up a domino upright against gravity, it has potential energy — it’s stored based on its position.” When you knock that domino over, much of its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, or the energy of motion. When it hits the next domino, that momentum causes it to topple over too, and so on.
As the domino tumbles, it leaves behind a trail of smaller blocks that continue to build upon each other. This is the essence of a chain reaction, and it’s what makes it so spectacular to watch in domino shows, where builders create elaborate, intricate, and imaginative layouts before a live audience of fans.
The same principle applies to story writing. In a written scene, each word, sentence, and paragraph should serve as a domino that triggers a subsequent scene. It’s in the careful planning of these dominoes that a writer can build a compelling narrative.
When you play a game of domino, each player in turn places a domino on the table positioning it so that its exposed ends touch each other. This begins a line of dominoes that gradually increases in length. Each domino in a row must be played to an adjacent, matching end unless it’s a double, which may be played anywhere on the end of the line. The player who scores the highest, or the player who reaches a target score in a given number of rounds wins.
Like a domino effect, a story works best when the author plans out each scene in advance, then lets those scenes play out in a natural progression that advances the plot. It’s an approach that’s often used by screenwriters, and it can be effective in any genre of fiction or nonfiction.