Domino and Storytelling


Domino is a game of sliding tiles across the table to create a chain of connected ends, each showing one number. The shape of the chain develops at random depending on the placement and arrangement of the pieces, but each domino played to a double must be perpendicular to it, touching all sides of the pair. This simple rule makes the puzzles and games possible.

Dominos have been made from a wide variety of materials, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, and a dark hardwood such as ebony with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on them. They have also been made from a number of other natural materials, such as marble and soapstone; metals like brass and pewter; ceramic clay; and crystal and frosted glass. A typical European-style domino has a line in the middle to divide it visually into two squares, or ends. The value of each end is the number of pips it has, from six pips down to none or blank.

The most complex domino structures are often set up for display in a show, where builders compete to see who can create the most imaginative and spectacular domino reaction or effect before an audience of fans. These displays require great skill and planning, because the dominoes must be positioned precisely and paced correctly so that the first one to fall will nudge the next one exactly where it needs to go. Hevesh has worked on projects involving hundreds and even thousands of dominoes, and she says that one physical phenomenon is essential to making them work: gravitation. Gravity pulls each domino toward the ground, and this is what causes them to eventually topple over in long lines.

In storytelling, a well-paced scene is similar to a domino chain. Scenes in a story should progress the hero farther away or closer to their goal, but they shouldn’t be too long or too short; if they are too long they’ll feel like drudgery and will lose readers; if they are too short, they won’t be effective at revealing key information or raising tension.

If we look at scenes in a novel, each domino can represent something important that the hero needs to know or do in order to advance the plot or argument. If a scene doesn’t do that, it’s not necessary or compelling and should be eliminated or reduced.

As a writer, I’m more of a “pantser” than a plotter and use outlines to help me keep the plot moving along, but even for me, scenes that don’t advance the story or raise tension are ineffective dominoes and should be removed or reduced. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to learn that this is exactly the same process that the Domino Effect aims to help writers apply to their writing. These scene dominoes can be anything from a single, insignificant detail to the whole sequence of events that leads up to the climax of a story.