Playing With Dominoes in Fiction


Dominoes can be arranged to form straight lines, curved tracks, grids that make pictures when they fall, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. They can be made out of wood, plastic, glass, or ceramics. They can be painted, stained or left in their natural color. They can even be decorated with different shapes, numbers or letters. There are so many ways to play with domino, but all of them involve the same basic idea: a single domino can start a chain reaction that leads to something bigger than you could have predicted.

This same concept is important in fiction, and it’s one of the most critical lessons I try to teach my clients when providing book editing services. Think of each plot beat in your novel as a domino. If you’re going to lay down a domino, it has to be interesting enough to get your readers interested in what’s happening next. If you’re just laying down a row of simple, one-sided dominoes, no one will care what happens to them.

The first domino is the “starter” and must be positioned properly to set up the chain reaction. Then, the other dominoes must be placed on top of it in order to continue the sequence. It’s not as easy as it looks, but when done well, it creates a stunning display.

To achieve this, a domino artist, like Hevesh, uses a version of the engineering-design process to create her mind-blowing setups. For example, she considers the theme or purpose of the installation she’s trying to create and brainstorms images or words that might be associated with it. She then creates a diagram that illustrates how the pieces will be positioned and what kind of effect they’ll have when they fall.

Once she’s created her domino masterpiece, it’s time to put it into action. The laws of physics are what really makes this happen, and Hevesh says that one physical phenomenon is especially crucial: gravity. This force pulls each knocked-over domino toward the ground, which in turn sends it crashing into the next domino and triggering the chain reaction.

Hevesh has created many amazing domino designs, and some of her largest ones have taken several nail-biting minutes to complete. But she always knows that she’s in good hands: “All I have to do is trust that the pieces will fall in the right place and at the right time.”

Whether you compose your manuscript off the cuff or take your time with an outline, there’s no doubt that the process of writing a novel is like setting up a giant domino rally. But no matter how you work, all of your efforts are for nothing if your story doesn’t have an ending that’s worthy of the big stage. That’s why it’s so essential to carefully consider each one of your plot beats to make sure they have the power and impact of a domino.