Using the Domino Effect in Writing


Domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block with either one or two sides marked by spots resembling those on dice. A domino is used in a game played by two or more players who alternately play their pieces to create a chain that eventually topples over. The game can be as simple or complicated as the player wishes and there are countless variations on the theme. Dominoes can also be stacked to form intricate patterns. The physics of the chains and patterns created when dominoes are tipped over provide interesting insights into energy and momentum. The idea of one action leading to many more is reflected in the popular saying, “The domino effect.”

Dominos may be used to create shapes such as hearts and circles. Some people create art with the pieces, including curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall and even 3D structures such as towers and pyramids. The beauty of a Domino design is that it requires no external force to keep the dominoes in place. Each piece has its own built-in physics that holds it in place until someone nudges it over.

The physics of dominoes is very similar to the physics of neurons in the brain. Each domino has its own built-in momentum that keeps it in place until someone nudges or crashes it over. The movement of the first domino is like the firing of a nerve impulse, in that it travels at the same speed whether the pulse is large or small and can only go in one direction.

When someone tips the first domino over, it loses its own momentum and releases that energy to push on the next domino in line. As it falls, the first domino pushes on the second, and then on the third, and so on. This process continues until the entire row is completely destroyed or the player runs out of dominoes to play.

Using the Domino Effect in Writing

When you are plotting your novel, it can be helpful to think of each scene as a domino. Just like a domino, each scene must be carefully crafted to have the same impact. Whether you write off the cuff or spend time with a detailed outline, each scene should be set up to lead to a dramatic impact and lead into the next scene. The best scenes in a book are those that make the reader think, “What happens next?”

When Hevesh knocks over her creations, she doesn’t use any special effects or tricks to get the pieces to fall. She relies on the laws of physics and the fact that each domino has its own built-in inertia. When she nudges the first domino, it picks up energy to move and push on the next one in line. This is just like the kinetic energy picked up by a nerve impulse when it fires from the cell body to the end of an axon.