November 27, 2023

A domino is a small, flat thumbsized rectangular block the face of which is either blank or bearing from one to six pips or dots. A complete set of dominoes consists of 28 such pieces. Dominoes are used in a variety of games, mostly by matching the ends of two or more adjacent dominoes and laying them down in lines and angular patterns. Dominoes are also sometimes used as a form of therapy for people with developmental disabilities.

In a game of domino, players begin by drawing their tiles and determining who will play first. The player whose tiles have the most total pips wins, and is awarded points. In some variations of the game, doubles count as either one or two (a 6-6 counts as 12), and double-blanks count as 0 or 14. Typically, play continues until a player cannot lay any more of his or her tiles and then “chips out,” rapping the table to signal that they are done. Play then passes to the other player.

Physicist Stephen Morris explains that when a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy, a tendency to resist motion until some outside force causes it to topple. Once it does, that energy changes from potential to kinetic, the force of motion that propels the next domino and creates the chain reaction.

Just like the physics of dominoes, the domino effect can be applied to writing fiction. Whether you plot your novel off the cuff or follow a careful outline, the process of creating a story ultimately comes down to answering the question, “What happens next?” And that answer depends on how well you understand the domino effect.

In a scene where your protagonist takes an action that is immoral or illegal, for instance, you’ll need to provide the reader with enough logic and motive to give them permission to continue liking the character even as he or she steps outside societal norms. Understanding the domino effect can help you make that logic clear to your reader, so that they feel comfortable with the choice your character has made.