The Domino Effect Can Help Writers Space Out Their Scenes

The Domino Effect Can Help Writers Space Out Their Scenes

Domino is a game played by two people or an entire group of players. It involves laying down one domino at a time, either in a straight line or a curved one, and then each player must follow the first one by matching its ends with those of their own dominoes to form a chain reaction. The first player to do so wins. There are many variants of the game, and the rules vary according to the type.

Lily Hevesh started collecting dominoes when she was 9 years old. She loved setting them up in a line or a curve and then flicking the first one to see what would happen next. Now 20, Hevesh is a professional domino artist, creating spectacular domino setups for TV shows, movies, and events, as well as a YouTube channel where she shares her creations with more than 2 million subscribers. Her largest installations take several nail-biting minutes to fall, but she says there’s one physical phenomenon essential for a domino cascade: gravity.

If you’re a writer who prefers to wing it as you write, rather than using outlines or Scrivener to plot ahead of time, the concept of a domino effect can be helpful. Whether the dominoes are actual bricks or characters in your story, each scene needs to fit with the scenes that come before it and those that follow. If you don’t space things out properly, your story can stall and feel slow or flat.

Physicist Stephen Morris points out that when a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy, or stored energy based on its position. But as the domino falls, much of that energy is converted to kinetic energy—the force that causes it to tumble over and cause other dominoes to topple in a chain reaction.

Like a nerve impulse traveling down a neuron, a domino effect is all-or-nothing. A domino’s pulse moves at the same speed regardless of its size, and it travels in one direction only. It’s also a perfect example of an unidirectional loop, because the initial domino doesn’t cause the others to fall; they simply cascade in response.

A domino can be made of different materials, but most are made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony. Some sets are carved from natural stone, such as marble or soapstone; some are cast in metals; and others are made of ceramic clay or even frosted glass for a more novel look.

The term “domino” comes from the Latin for “falling block,” a reference to the way the pieces of a domino set can pile up quickly once the first one is knocked over. In English, the word was shortened to dominoes after it appeared in French about 1750. It had an earlier sense, denoting a long hooded robe worn with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. This sense may have inspired the name of the game that is now more often called Dominos, which was first recorded in English around 1870.