We’ve all seen it: a domino construction in which tipping the first piece ever-so-slightly causes them to cascade down like a rhythmic waterfall. This is what we call the “domino effect.” And it’s also one of the most important lessons for writers. Because whether you compose your manuscript off the cuff or take your time with an outline, writing a novel is essentially about plotting out what happens next. Considering how the domino effect can play into your story will help you create compelling and engaging scenes.
A domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block, bearing a pattern of dots or spots on one side and blank or identically patterned on the other. The domino face usually features a line to divide it visually into two squares, with each square bearing an arrangement of numbers that correspond to the dots on each side. These are called pips, and they range from six to none (in which case the domino is blank). A domino has two exposed ends that may be used in scoring games in which each end must match the other: for example, one’s touching, or two’s touching. If the matched ends total any number, the player is awarded that score.
Most domino games are positional and involve a player placing dominoes edge-to-edge against each other, so that the exposed ends match in a specified way. A variety of scoring and non-scoring games are played. Some of these involve blocking the opponents’ play, and others count the number of pips on opposing players’ tiles (e.g., bergen and muggins).
The word domino comes from the Latin dominus, meaning “lord.” A person with this title appreciates the gravity of every action and is always thinking two moves ahead.
In addition to the domino effect, the word has other etymological roots, including the Italian domino, which means “luck” or “fate.” And the French word, Domino, is a noun that refers to a large tile used in a game of skill.
While the physical phenomenon of inertia makes it difficult to knock over a domino, physicist Stephen Morris points out that even a domino that’s standing upright has potential energy based on its position. As soon as a domino is pushed, however, it transforms into kinetic energy, the type of energy that creates a chain reaction. Hevesh, who has created massive designs involving hundreds of thousands of dominoes, says this is why her creations are so impressive. She just needs to give them a little nudge.