The Domino Effect in Writing


Domino, a flat, thumbsized, rectangular block of wood or other material with either a blank face or bearing from one to six pips (dots): 28 such pieces make up a complete domino set. The name also applies to any of the many games played with this set, usually by placing the dominoes edge to edge in lines and angular patterns.

The word domino first appeared in English around 1750 and the game of dominoes in French shortly thereafter. The word probably derives from a Latin term that denoted a long, hooded cloak worn together with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. The playing piece’s resemblance to a priest’s black domino contrasting with his white surplice may have further contributed to the association of the word and the game.

A common saying is that a domino effect occurs when one event leads to a series of similar events in a way that the initial event cannot be reversed. This is a metaphor for the way that a small change can have wide-ranging consequences, such as an earthquake that causes a tsunami that leads to a nuclear disaster. The term is also used to refer to political situations in which a chain of events, each resulting from a smaller change, could lead to a larger outcome.

For example, when President Eisenhower addressed the issue of America’s involvement in Vietnam during the Cold War, he said that the United States was simply a “small domino” that would cause Communist influence to spread like an avalanche. This was a clear reference to the domino effect, which is now commonly applied to a wide range of scenarios.

Whether you’re a plotter who makes detailed outlines of your manuscript or you’re a pantser who lets the scenes happen organically, the concept of using domino effects can help guide you to success in your writing. The idea is to consider each scene as a domino, with each scene serving as a key piece that can either advance the plot or stall it.

In fiction, you might use a scene domino as each point to illustrate a theme or statement, but in nonfiction, each scene domino should naturally impact the scene ahead of it, much like how a domino that is standing upright stores potential energy, converting into kinetic energy once it falls.

There are a number of ways that scoring is determined in domino games, but most involve counting the total number of pips left in the losing player’s hands at the end of a hand or the game and adding that amount to the winner’s score. There are some rules variations that apply, such as only counting the end of a double (i.e., 4-4 counts as only four points). In some games, all tiles in the stock can be bought or passed and then placed on the table, while in others, only a certain number of the available tiles are bought at the beginning.