The Domino Effect and How It Affects Story Creation

Domino is a small, flat, rectangular block used as a gaming object. The blocks are also referred to as bones, men, cards or pieces and may be made of wood, bone, plastic, or other rigid material. They are normally twice as long as they are wide and feature a line down the middle which divides them visually into two squares with the values of either side, indicated by dots, known as pips. Each domino is marked with one or more pips that identify its value, and the sum of the pips on a domino determines its rank among other dominoes in the same set.

A domino is most commonly used in a game called Block, where players place and remove tiles on an arrangement of lines that run out from a center point. A player can win the game by placing all of his or her tiles in a neat line before the opponent. Some domino games involve matching tiles based on the number of pips they contain, as well. These games are adapted from trick-taking card games and were once popular to circumvent religious prohibitions against playing cards.

The physical properties of dominoes make them suitable for certain kinds of games, but the principle that gives rise to them is a useful metaphor for the process of story creation. Whether you are a plotter who outlines his or her manuscript in detail or a pantser who writes by the seat of your pants, the process of writing a novel comes down to creating scenes that naturally influence the scene ahead of them, much like a series of dominoes stacked on end.

If you start with a single domino and put it on its side, it will resist movement until a force pushes against it. At that point it will have a certain amount of potential energy, depending on its position and the amount of force exerted. When it finally falls, much of that potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, and the rest of the dominoes will follow suit.

Unlike physical dominoes, fictional ones don’t have inertia. A nudge from outside will cause them to fall, but they are still unmoving until that happens. A physicist who studies these types of systems explains that this is because the tops of the dominoes slide against each other and the bottoms slip on the surface they are on, which creates friction that converts some of the potential energy into kinetic energy.

As a result, it takes quite a lot of energy to get a domino to tip over and begin the chain reaction that leads to its greater–and sometimes catastrophic–consequences. But when a single domino is positioned just right, all it takes is a tiny nudge to cause the entire string to topple over. Dominoes are a beautiful example of this principle.