The Domino Effect

When you look at a domino construction, the beauty lies in the way the first piece just needs to be tipped ever-so-slightly to cause all of the other pieces to fall in a cascade of rhythmic motion. This idea of a chain reaction that grows in power with each new piece added is called the “domino effect.” And it can be applied to any kind of story, not just novels.

For instance, if your soccer team wins against their biggest rivals it can create a domino effect that leads to state playoffs. And in business, a customer satisfaction survey can lead to a domino effect of positive changes in policies, procedures, and culture.

A domino is a small rectangular block of wood or plastic with a face that is divided into two squares, each with a number of dots resembling those on dice. The numbers, called pips, are inlaid or painted onto the surface of each domino. The pips can also be engraved, molded, or cast in metal. Traditional sets of dominoes are usually made from bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother-of-pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips. More recently, domino sets have been made from stone, marble, granite, soapstone, other woods, metals, and even frosted glass or crystal.

Dominoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all are designed to be twice as long as they are wide. This makes them easier to stack and re-stack when not in use. The most common set has a total of 28 dominoes, but there are larger sets that include more than 28 pieces, and there are even “extended” versions with different maximum numbers of pips on each end.

In a game of dominoes, each player plays a domino by placing it on the table so that its two matching ends touch. The resulting chain of tiles then develops a shape that resembles a snake-line, depending on the rules of the game being played. Some chains may only be played to a double domino, and it is important that each tile is placed correctly so that it does not cause the chain to become tangled or unbalanced.

A single domino has a high center of gravity, which means that it only requires a tiny amount of pressure to tip it forward to its resting position. Once the center of gravity takes hold, it is impossible to stop a domino from falling. And this is what makes it such a powerful metaphor for how small inputs can lead to huge outputs, whether it is a simple domino construction or a business strategy.

The same principles of the domino effect apply to a novel, and it is important that writers understand how to use them. Whether you are a plotter who uses an outline or a pantser who writes by the seat of their pants, understanding how to take advantage of the domino effect in your writing will help you to develop your narratives more effectively.