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The Domino Effect in Fiction Writing


The word domino refers to a game of several variants played with a set of flat rectangular blocks, called tiles, that are typically twice as long as they are wide. They feature a line or ridge that divides them visually into two squares, each bearing an arrangement of dots (called “pips”) that are similar to those used on a die. Some of the squares are blank, while others are numbered with one to six pips or dots.

A domino is considered to be a heavy tile if it has more than six pips, and light if it has fewer than six. Its value is determined by the number of pips on both ends of the tile, which is normally listed first: for example, a 6-6 domino is considered to have a value of 6.

Dominoes are usually stacked upright in long lines, and when a domino is tipped over, it can set off a chain reaction that leads to the toppling of every other domino in the line. Such a domino cascade is often called the domino effect, and it’s used to demonstrate how an initial action can lead to much greater—and sometimes catastrophic—consequences.

In fiction writing, the idea of a domino effect can be used to create interesting scenes that advance your novel’s plot in a natural way. However, it’s important to remember that your characters should have reason to engage in the actions they take—especially those that are immoral or outside societal norms. In such cases, a domino cascade may fail to work because readers will question your hero’s logic and motives for acting in such an irrational way.

Whether you compose your novel off the cuff or with a careful outline, plotting your story involves creating scenes that progress the narrative and reach a satisfying conclusion. The best way to ensure that your scenes move your plot forward is to consider the domino effect—how one event can trigger reactions and events that lead to other, more significant consequences.

As you plan your plot, you can use the concept of the domino effect to help you figure out what happens next. Here are some ideas on how to do so.

Traditionally, domino games are played by matching one end of a tile to the end of another tile that is identically or reciprocally numbered. The other end of the tile, which is normally referred to as its open end, is numbered with a higher value than the first. The higher value is also referred to as its rank.

Lily Hevesh has been stacking dominoes since she was 9 years old, when her grandparents gave her a classic 28-pack. She now has a YouTube channel where she shows off her spectacular domino setups, and creates domino installations for movies, TV shows and events, including a Katy Perry album launch. She spends a lot of time testing her creations, and filming them in slow motion to catch any problems before they occur.

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