The Domino Effect


A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block with an arrangement of dots on one face that corresponds to the numbers on a die. The other face is blank or marked with an identical pattern, and the value of each side is indicated by a line or ridge that divides it visually into two squares, called ends. The end with the most pips is the “domino,” and the one with no pips is the “spare.” Each domino has a different color to distinguish it from its neighbors.

When you set up a row of dominoes and tip them ever-so-gently, it’s like watching a beautiful cascade of rhythmic motion. You can make a chain reaction in a variety of ways—you can build curved lines, grids that form pictures, 3-D structures like towers and pyramids—the sky’s the limit. But no matter what you try, the basic principle is the same: as each domino falls, it creates a pulse that travels down the line, just like a nerve impulse in your body.

Domino Art

Many people use dominoes to decorate their homes, but professional artists build mind-blowing displays with them that are used in exhibitions and public events. Some of these artists create curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, and even 3-D structures. Some of these creations take hours, if not days, to complete. But what makes it all possible is physics.

Each domino has inertia, the tendency to resist movement when no outside force is pushing or pulling on it. But if you give that first domino just the slightest nudge, it will start to move, and its potential energy will be converted to kinetic energy—the energy of motion.

That energy is transmitted to the next domino, providing it with a push. And that push is transferred to the next and the next until all the dominoes are falling. This is the domino effect.

The same kind of dynamic applies to writing, especially if you’re a pantser (a writer who composes their manuscript off the cuff). If you write scene after scene without any structure or outlines, it’s like setting up a row of dominoes in your home and then letting them fall. You’ll eventually get a lot of scenes that don’t fit together or have enough impact on the scene before it.

But if you use tools like Scrivener to help you plot ahead of time, you can avoid those domino-like scenes. That’s because a story’s plot—its logical chain of cause and effect—isn’t really about action. It’s about reaction. And thinking about the domino effect can help you develop your own reactions as a writer and produce more compelling fiction.