The Domino Effect – A Writer’s Metaphor

Dominoes are a toy that many of us played with as children. They’re small blocks that can be stacked together to make lines and shapes, or used to create structures like houses and castles. They can even be arranged to form a chain reaction that causes one domino to fall over, triggering the next to tumble down in a beautiful cascade of rhythmic movement. This is the concept of the domino effect, and it’s a valuable metaphor for writers to consider when crafting their own stories.

When Hevesh sets up her dominoes, she often has to place them just so to create this effect. That’s because each domino has inertia, a tendency to resist motion unless it’s forced into action. But once that first domino is tipped over, the momentum it generates can be passed on to the next, and the rest of the chain follows suit with little effort.

In the simplest terms, a domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block with two parts—or “ends,” in domino parlance—that are either blank or bear from one to six pips (or dots). 28 such dominoes make up a complete set. In a game, the dominoes are placed edge-to-edge so that their values match or form a particular total.

Aside from their entertainment value, dominoes are also an important teaching tool. They help children develop their spatial awareness and encourage them to think about how an object’s shape influences its movement. And they’re a great way to practice counting and number recognition.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all is that the domino effect applies to life as well as to toys. As we all know, one bad choice can lead to a series of consequences that can be far reaching and sometimes devastating. Think of each plot beat in your novel as a domino. Every action you write should have a clear impact on what comes after it—even if that impact isn’t immediately visible.

The Domino effect can also help you spot any scenes that don’t seem to fit, or have a weak connection to the scene before it. Whether you’re a pantser who writes off the cuff, or a planner who makes use of outlines and tools like Scrivener, it’s vital to plan your story carefully so that each scene has a clear impact on what comes before it. Otherwise, your reader might feel lost, or, worse, bored by what you’ve written.