Creating a Domino Effect in Your Novel

Domino is a game where players set up dominoes in long lines. When the first domino is tipped over, it triggers a chain reaction that causes the rest of the dominoes to tip over as well. Many children use their own dominoes to create intricate designs. Domino is also a metaphor that refers to a series of events that start small and have much greater–and sometimes catastrophic–consequences.

Dominoes are rectangular pieces with a pattern of dots on one end and a blank or identically patterned side. Each domino has a specific number of dots, called pips. Some of the pips are black, while others are white. Dominoes can be stacked on top of each other, like building blocks, or used as playing pieces. They can also be arranged in lines, with each domino touching the next one on either side of it. The resulting chains are called “domino chains.”

The most common way to play domino is with a double-twelve or double-nine domino set. Each player draws 12 or nine tiles, respectively, and then begins placing them on the table so that the exposed ends of each domino match up (i.e., one’s touch two’s and so on). The goal is to score the most points by laying down all of your dominoes. The rules vary a bit depending on the game, but most involve scoring when all of a player’s exposed dominoes total multiples of five.

When Hevesh sets up a mind-blowing domino setup, she follows a version of the engineering-design process. She considers the theme or purpose of the installation and brainstorms images or words she might want to use in it. She then draws a blueprint to guide her work.

If you’re writing a novel, thinking of the domino effect might help you develop a compelling plot. Whether you compose your manuscript on the fly or take time with an outline, plotting a novel ultimately comes down to one question: What happens next? Achieving this in a way that will engage your reader requires an understanding of how to create a domino effect.

A domino is an all-or-nothing event, just like a nerve impulse in your brain. When the first domino in a line falls, it has the same kind of explosive power as a lightning strike. And just like a lightning strike, it travels quickly without losing energy and in only one direction.

The word “domino” originated in France after 1750, and the game followed shortly after. Its name may have come from the word “domine,” which originally meant a hooded cape worn with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. It might also have been inspired by the ebony domino pieces contrasted with a priest’s white surplice. The word may also have referred to the long hooded robe worn by slaves. Earlier still, it denoted a cloak or cape that could be draped over a woman’s shoulders in a corset-like fashion. This sense of the word eventually led to its modern sense as a garment.