The Domino Effect in Literature


Domino is a popular game in which players arrange tiles on a table, matching the pips. The dominoes then fall, setting off a chain reaction that continues until all the pieces have fallen. Dominoes can be used to create intricate designs, such as straight lines or curved lines that form pictures when they fall. They can also be used to create a map of a city or town, or to build 3D structures like towers or pyramids. In addition, domino is often used as a metaphor for the effect that one small action can have on a larger chain of events.

The word domino comes from the Latin dominica, meaning “little ebony.” It is thought that this name was inspired by the way the ebony domino pieces contrast with the ivory faces of the playing pieces. The word was also influenced by an earlier sense of the phrase a domino cape, which may have referred to a long black cloak worn together with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. The cloak was often worn with a white surplice, suggesting that the implication of the idiom was that, like a black domino against a white surplice, an event would have a strong impact on its surrounding environment.

In recent years, the domino effect has been used as a figurative expression to describe the spreading of an idea or event from one person to another, much like the effect that the falling of a single domino tile causes a series of other tiles to fall. The idiom was popularized in the mid-1960s by a column written by the journalist Robert Alsop. Writing about America’s decision to offer aid to the government of South Vietnam, Alsop described the effects of that support as being similar to the effect of a falling domino: “The first piece will touch, then another, and then another.” The term is now used for any situation in which one small trigger may cause a sequence of events to continue.

As a literary device, the domino effect allows a writer to create a powerful narrative by creating an elaborate chain of reactions that follow from one simple event. Whether the writer outlines a story carefully or writes a novel off the cuff, plotting a novel comes down to one question: What will happen next? Answering this question effectively will make for a compelling read.

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