The Domino Effect in Writing

Dominoes are small, flat blocks used as gaming objects. Each domino has a unique arrangement of spots, or “pips,” on one side. The other sides are blank or identically patterned. These pips provide the means to identify each domino, even when the pieces are not touching.

Dominos are commonly played as a group activity and have a strong cultural significance in many societies. The game demonstrates the innate human desire for connection and community. It also encourages teamwork and builds communication skills.

While the game is best known for its ability to create a cascade of events that ultimately results in one big “domino effect,” it can also be used in a variety of other ways. Dominoes can be used to make art, build structures, and even as a way of illustrating mathematical concepts.

The term “domino” is also often used to refer to a person’s overall life or career, or as a metaphor for a series of related events. For example, a person’s job or financial status may depend on a domino effect of other choices they have made in their life.

Like the unwieldy dominoes that Hevesh sets up, these figurative dominoes have inertia — a tendency to resist motion until pushed against by an outside force. Then, with just a slight nudge, they can topple in a carefully coordinated sequence. This is what makes dominoes so interesting to watch, especially in videos of builders in a domino show, where thousands of them are set up in careful sequence, all of them eventually falling with the nudge of just one domino.

In writing, the domino image can also be helpful for identifying scenes that don’t work or that are out of place in your story. If your scene isn’t doing much to advance the plot or raise the tension, it might be a good idea to weed it out. This is easy to do with a tool such as Scrivener, which allows you to lay out scenes in order.

For example, in a game called 42, the dominoes are arranged on the table with each player picking seven of them. The players then play these dominoes into tricks, each trick consisting of a pair of dominoes. Each domino must contain a multiple of five to count as a point in the winning trick. A player can win all three tricks in a row to be declared the winner.

The most basic domino variant, double-six, uses 28 tiles arranged in a rectangular stock, or boneyard. The two players draw tiles from this stock, then add them to their own hand based on the number of matching pips. The first player to play all of their tiles wins. More elaborate games can be played using extended (or larger) domino sets with more pips on each end, such as double-nine or double-twelve. These larger sets require four or more players. There are also specialty dominoes made of different materials, such as stone (e.g., marble or granite), other woods (e.g., ebony), or metals.