The Domino Effect in Fiction


If you’ve ever watched a chain reaction of dominoes falling in unison, you may have experienced the “domino effect.” This term describes any action that leads to another action in a similar fashion. In fiction, a story is like a stack of scene dominoes that build upon one another to produce a smooth flow of scenes leading up to the climax of the tale. Whether you’re writing off the cuff or using a meticulous outline, considering the domino effect in your novel can help you craft a plot that flows smoothly and draws the reader in.

A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block marked on each face with numbers resembling those on dice. Each side of the domino has two squares called ends, each displaying a number or blank. The values of the ends vary between dominoes, with those showing more pips being considered “heavier” than those with fewer pips or none at all.

Dominoes are played by two, three, or four players. Each player draws one domino from a shuffled pile and places it on the table to begin the first hand. The winner of the first hand takes all of the unused dominoes and begins the second hand. The unused dominoes are known as the boneyard.

When a player plays a domino, it must touch either the end of the previous domino or the edge of the boneyard. If it touches only one of these things, the player has committed a double. If a player plays a tile with a value that is equal to or greater than the total of the previous dominoes, then the other end of the boneyard must be filled in. If the boneyard is empty, it is said that the domino has been topped off.

As the dominoes are played, they form a long snake-line of tiles. The shape of the chain depends on the whims of the players and the limitations of the playing surface. Each domino must be placed so that the two matching ends are adjacent. If the first tile played is a double, it must be placed perpendicular to it. Otherwise, the next tile must be placed to its right or left, but not diagonally, as this would require a third domino to be played across the chain and break it into two separate parts.

The way in which the dominoes are positioned on the table also adds to the fun and challenge of the game. The most popular domino game, Straight Dominoes, is played on a hard surface such as a tabletop. When the game is being played on a soft surface, it is common to have to reshuffle the dominoes at least once during a hand.

When a writer uses the domino effect in a story, it is often done by letting each scene domino fall naturally and then linking them together in an ordered sequence until the climax. This technique can be very effective, especially in an adventure or romance story that requires the character to travel from place to place. It can also be useful in a nonfiction narrative, such as a biography or history.