Writing About Dominoes

Dominoes are small rectangular blocks that are used in a number of games. They are stacked on end in long lines, and the first domino is tipped over to start the chain reaction that causes more and more dominoes to tip until they all fall. The resulting chains of falling dominoes can be very elaborate, with straight lines, curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, and even 3D structures like towers and pyramids. Some people even make a living building amazingly complex domino art!

The word domino is derived from the Latin dominie, meaning “master of the house.” The word came to be applied also to the game of dominoes and its rules. The pieces of a domino set are called dominoes, and they can be made from many different materials. The most common dominoes are made from plastic, but sets have also been manufactured from wood (especially a dark hardwood such as ebony), silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother-of-pearl), bone, and ivory. The dominoes typically feature black or white pips inlaid into the surface, and they can be painted or left unpainted.

A nudge is all it takes to get a domino to tip over. This is the principle behind the famous domino effect, in which one simple event triggers a series of much larger–and sometimes catastrophic–consequences. Dominoes are especially effective in showing the domino effect because they have a built-in tendency to stick right where they are when no force is pushing on them.

Creating a story that uses the domino effect requires careful planning. A story that consists of domino scenes is ineffective if each scene isn’t effective enough to advance the narrative, or if the domino sequences are jarringly uneven. For example, a character that’s not the most model citizen but is a tough hero because of his or her strict moral standards is an excellent domino. However, if that character occasionally slips up, it’s not as interesting.

A well-written domino scene is a single moment that advances the narrative and makes readers want to keep reading. The best domino scenes come in a smooth sequence that flows through the story and builds to an exciting climax.

A good way to think of a domino scene is as the “main scene” that serves as the foundation for all other scenes. The other domino scenes then build upon that main scene, influencing it and affecting its outcome. In fiction, each domino scene might represent a separate plot point, and the other scenes might be the dominoes that “fall” in a specific order to create the desired effect. In nonfiction, the scene dominos might serve to illustrate a particular argument or theme. The final result should be a story that carries a strong message and is engaging for the reader.