Using the Domino Effect in Fiction


Domino is a set of small, rectangular clay or cardboard tiles with one side bearing an arrangement of spots or “pips” like those on dice, and the other blank or identically patterned. When a domino is tapped lightly with a finger, it falls over and sets off a chain reaction. The resulting sequence of movements can be as simple or elaborate as the player wishes. Dominoes are also used in positional games, where a player places one of their tiles edge to edge with another in such a way that the two adjacent ends match—as in, one’s touching one’s or one’s touching two’s—or form a specific total (such as five).

Domino has been around for hundreds of years, with its roots in Asian and Islamic cultures. The first western-style dominoes appeared in the mid-18th century, and by 1841 had spread throughout Europe and America. Today, domino is an extremely popular game, with many variations and rules. It can be played solo, with partners, or in teams. Players play until a player cannot lay a domino—as in, they have no more to play—or the game reaches a predetermined point. The winner is the player or team whose combined sum of all their remaining dominoes is the lowest.

Whether you like to set up your own domino lines or simply watch them fall, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way in which they cascade over each other. This is what gives rise to the term “domino effect,” which refers to any action that triggers a series of reactions.

This same effect can be seen in storytelling. Whether you plot your story off the cuff or take the time to carefully outline it, the process of composing your manuscript ultimately comes down to answering the question, What happens next? Considering how to use the domino effect in your writing can help you create a story that will keep readers engaged.

The most common use of the domino effect in fiction is as a tool for creating character motivation and pacing. In order for a story to work, it needs scenes that advance the hero toward or away from his or her goal. But those scenes also need to be properly spaced, so the cascade doesn’t feel too long or too short.

When a scene is too slow, readers will lose interest. Similarly, when a scene is too fast, it can feel unrealistic or disconnected from the rest of the story.

This is why it’s important to plan out your domino setup before you begin laying the pieces. This allows you to keep the momentum going by making sure each section of your domino art works well on its own. Hevesh often tests each part of her installations and videos them in slow motion to make precise adjustments as needed. For example, she may need to add a domino on the left side of a curve to prevent it from catching on fire or otherwise collapsing.

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