The Domino Effect in Story-Writing


The word domino is used to describe a series of events that starts with one simple action and ultimately leads to much larger, or even catastrophic consequences. This concept has become a popular metaphor, leading to the common expression, “the Domino Effect.” Today’s Wonder of the Day asks, how can we use this domino image when writing stories?

You’ve probably seen domino constructions in which the first piece is tipped ever so slightly, and it causes the rest of the chain to fall in a beautiful cascade. But what makes that first tip so important? And how do we make the entire thing work? In this Wonder, we’ll learn more about the science behind a domino construction, and see how we can apply that knowledge to our own story-writing.

Dominoes are rectangular pieces of wood or other materials, with a special pattern of spots on one side. The other side of the domino is blank or identically patterned. The spots on a domino are called pips, and each end of the domino has a different number of pips than the other ends. A typical domino set contains 28 tiles, although some sets have more or less than that. Dominos are also known by other names, such as bones, cards, tiles, blocks, and tickets.

In a domino game, players take turns placing tiles on the table in a row, positioning each tile so that its matching ends touch each other. The result is a long, snake-like chain. Each time a player plays a domino, the chain grows longer. When a player can’t play another domino, or the opponents block their way with tiles, the game stops.

The simplest domino games involve playing against an opponent to try to empty the other player’s hands. Other domino games are scoring games, in which the winning player is the first to reach a certain point in the chain. Still others require blocking, in which the players try to keep their own pips in their hands.

Whether you’re playing a simple game or creating a complex structure, every domino needs to be spaced correctly for the sequence to work. This is true both of the physical structure and the sequence of events in a story. The scenes in your story need to advance the plot by moving the hero closer to or farther from the goal, and they must be at just the right length. Too long, and the scene feels slow and ponderous; too short, and it doesn’t have enough impact on the next scene.

Similarly, the domino constructions Hevesh creates take many trials to get just right. She tests each section of the design individually, filming it in slow motion to help her make precise corrections when something doesn’t work. Once she’s satisfied with the individual sections, she puts them together into the final designs you see in videos online. These designs include straight lines, curved lines, grids that form pictures, 3D structures like towers and pyramids, and more.