A domino is a rectangular block, thumb-sized or smaller, that has an identifying mark on one side and is blank or identically patterned on the other. It also bears an arrangement of spots, or pips, that resemble those on a die. A typical set of dominoes has 28 such blocks, and there are many games that can be played with them. When a domino is tipped over, it sets off a chain reaction that leads to much greater consequences than the original action. In fiction, a similar effect can be achieved by creating scenes that logically impact the scene ahead of them.
Dominoes are commonly made from plastic, but can be found in wood (such as mahogany or sycamore), marble, stone and other materials such as ceramic clay. They can be painted or carved with designs and inlays. In addition, some sets are made with precious metals or stones such as jade. Despite the variety of materials, most dominoes have a similar look and feel.
The most common use of dominoes in the West involves positional games. In these games, each player places a domino edge to edge against another so that the adjacent faces are either identical or form some specified total (e.g., five to six). When the first domino is tipped over, much of its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and transmitted to the next domino, pushing it over. This energy continues transmitting from domino to domino until all the dominoes have fallen.
A more challenging but equally satisfying type of domino play is called a “cascade.” A cascade occurs when a single domino creates a series of events that build on each other. The sequence of events can culminate in a dramatic event or just make for a pleasant diversion. The domino effect can be modeled using a cascade, and the process can help writers construct their own narratives and plots.
Whether you’re a panster and compose your novel off the cuff or take your time with a detailed outline, plotting your story ultimately comes down to one question: What happens next? Using the domino effect in your writing can help you answer that question in a compelling way.
Domino can be used in any kind of writing, from novels to nonfiction. But in fiction, it’s particularly helpful in constructing scene structure. Scenes are like the dominoes, and the actions of your characters—what they do, say, think or even utter—should influence the next scene.
When you think about your scenes in this way, it’s easier to weed out those that don’t do enough to advance the plot and that are too repetitive or boring. The more scene dominoes you have in your story, the more opportunities there are for your readers to get hooked by the domino effect. And the more they get hooked, the more likely they are to keep reading.