How Dominoes Affect the Plot of Your Novel

Dominoes are flat, rectangular tiles that feature an arrangement of dots or spots, like those on a die, on one side and are blank or identically patterned on the other. They are most often used for games involving positional play, where the player places a domino edge-to-edge against another so that its numbers match a number at one end of the line being formed (for example, 5-5). Each time a domino is placed, energy travels from the first tile to the next, until enough force is exerted to tip the entire chain over.

The physics of this effect is what fascinates many people who spend their lives building dominoes for fun or as a hobby. It is why you can see such elaborate setups at domino rallies, where builders display their creations to an audience and then compete for the most complex domino effect or reaction.

There are many different ways to play domino, but the basic rules are similar: Each player shuffles his or her tiles face down on a flat playing surface and thoroughly mixes them by moving them with hands. The player to the right of the person who made the first move then adds a domino by placing it on top of one of the free ends of an already-played domino, and so on in clockwise fashion around the table. The player who does the shuffling for a game may change from game to game or alternate with the player to his or her left.

Whether you plot your novel with careful outlines or write off the cuff, the process of writing a story ultimately comes down to one question: What happens next? Thinking about how to structure your scenes to answer this question can help you avoid wasting time and energy on scenes that don’t advance the plot. Think of your scenes like dominoes — if you set them up in the wrong order or don’t have enough logical impact, they won’t fall in place.

When Hevesh creates one of her mind-blowing domino installations, she follows a version of the engineering-design process. She considers the theme or purpose of the installation and brainstorms images or words that might help convey it. She then creates a rough sketch of the layout, and finally, she begins to put it together. Once she completes a layout, it takes her several nail-biting minutes to watch as gravity does its work and the dominoes fall. Hevesh has worked on projects involving hundreds and even thousands of dominoes, and her largest creations take more than 15 minutes to collapse. But she has a unique understanding of how small actions can lead to big results. Similarly, small changes in the way you approach your writing can have dramatic impacts on the final product. Using the concept of the domino effect can give you a new perspective on how to create your own masterpieces.