The Domino Effect


A domino is a small tile that features an arrangement of numbers or blanks on one side and is divided, visually, by a line or ridge into two squares. A domino may also feature a number on either of its end pieces, which are called tails. Dominoes with a single number on both ends belong to the suit of that number; those with a different number on each end belong to another suit. The number on the domino’s tail indicates its rank, or value; a domino with a larger number on the tail is “heavier” than a domino with a smaller number on its tail.

A person can play a variety of games with dominoes. Most involve positioning a series of tiles edge to edge so that their adjacent faces match, or are identical, and form some specified total. Dominoes are also popular as toys for children, who can create amazing designs by lining them up in long lines and then tipping them all over. These activities led to the phrase, the domino effect, which describes a simple action that leads to much greater—and sometimes catastrophic—consequences.

Hevesh’s mind-boggling creations are based on a similar principle: the first domino to fall begins a chain reaction that continues until every piece has fallen. This is possible because each domino has potential energy, which is its tendency to resist motion when no outside force is pushing or pulling on it. But, as the first domino falls, this potential energy converts into kinetic energy, which pushes on the next domino. Then, that domino passes that energy onto the next until the entire set has collapsed.

This principle, which can apply to many things in life, is one of the core lessons I teach when offering book editing services. I encourage my clients to think of each scene in their novels as a single domino, a moment or event that is triggered by the event that happened before it. That might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of this simple idea when composing a novel.

As I’ve worked with many authors, I’ve seen countless examples of scenes that lack impact because they occur at the wrong point in the plot or because they aren’t clearly linked to the scene that precedes them. Whether you’re a pantser who writes off the cuff or a meticulous outliner, understanding the Domino Effect will help you improve your writing.