Using the Domino Effect to Create a Plot in Fiction


A domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block that is either blank or bears an arrangement of spots, or “pips,” like those on a die. There are 28 such pieces in a complete set of dominoes. The pips are used to distinguish one domino from another when placed edge-to-edge against each other, which is the way they are laid down in a line or an angular pattern for many games.

The word “domino” has also come to refer to a game played with such pieces, as well as the process of creating a plot in fiction. Whether you compose your manuscript off the cuff or carefully follow an outline, considering how to incorporate the domino effect into your work can help you create a story that keeps readers engaged and eager to turn the page.

Although domino has numerous uses, its most common application is as a game. Traditionally, a domino is played by placing one of the twenty-eight tiles on a table or other surface, then adding adjacent tiles to form a continuous row, or “line of play.” Each tile must be touching at all four sides to prevent it from being moved.

Once all the tiles have been laid, the winner of a hand or the entire game is determined by counting the number of pips remaining in his or her hands at the end of the hand or the game. The player with the highest count wins. The highest possible score is a total of 13 points, which may be obtained by playing a double tile on both ends of the line of play.

A basic set of domino contains a total of twenty-eight tiles with all eight pips on both sides, but larger sets are available with more or less than the standard number of pips. Most players choose to extend their domino sets by purchasing additional tiles with more pips, which adds more possibilities for different combinations of ends and thus more games.

When a player draws more tiles for his or her hand than are permitted under the rules of the game, this is called an overdraw and the extra tiles must be added to the stock. When this happens, the player to his or her right takes those tiles without looking at them and returns them to the stock before anyone else draws.

The physics of how dominoes fall is interesting to study. A professional domino artist, like the renowned Hevesh, is able to create intricate displays by relying on the physical phenomenon of gravity. Hevesh has worked on projects involving as many as 300,000 dominoes, and his largest creations take several nail-biting minutes to fall. Watch this video as Hevesh demonstrates how the force of gravity pulls each domino toward Earth, sending it crashing into the next piece and triggering a chain reaction. You can experiment with this concept at home: Set up a row of dominoes on your living room floor. Then, touch a single domino to the wall with a finger and observe how it affects the rest of the dominoes.