The Domino Effect


The domino effect is a common saying that describes an event or situation where one event or action causes others to follow. It’s a metaphor for a chain reaction that can be unpredictable, or even disastrous, depending on how the dominoes are arranged. For example, a large company’s policies and procedures may have unintended consequences that ripple outward to customers, employees and shareholders. The company must be prepared to address the problems and prevent them from escalating.

A Domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block with one or more dots, resembling those on dice, on each face. The word is also used for a game played with these blocks, or for the set of rules for such games. The term is also used figuratively, as in “the domino theory of international relations,” to describe the way one country’s political or economic action can cause other countries to react in ways predicted by a mathematical model.

To play a domino, each player draws for his hand the number of tiles permitted according to the rules of the game. These tiles are then placed in a pile, called the stock. A player may pass, or bye, one or more of these tiles to someone else before making a play. Then, each player places his domino in a line of play. The order of play is established by the rules of the game, and each player must play a domino touching either end of the line of play, or a crosswise line (if a double has been played).

In a domino construction, each tile must be placed in exactly the right spot to trigger the next one to fall. Likewise, each scene in a story must be carefully spaced. Too many scenes can crowd the narrative and make it difficult for readers to absorb key plot points or emotionally connect with characters. Too few scenes can leave the hero at a disadvantage by making him seem slow or stuck in a rut.

The hero’s progress toward the goal of a story should be gradual and steady, yet compelling. Like a domino construction, the pace of a story should be just right. The action should advance in a logical sequence, and the hero’s reactions should be well-paced so as to heighten tension.

A good storyteller must know how to arrange the dominoes in a compelling way, or the story will fail to come together. This is as true for those who write by the seat of their pants, using a template or outline program like Scrivener, as it is for those who meticulously plot each scene in advance. No matter which method a writer uses, the key to a successful novel is how the hero responds to the challenges he faces. The story must build momentum until the final confrontation is a triumph for him or her, and it must end with a domino effect that leaves the reader wanting more.