The Domino Effect
A domino is a small, thumbsized rectangular block with one side bearing from one to six dots or pips and the other blank. A set of 28 such dominoes forms a complete domino set. The word domino also refers to the various games played with them, particularly those involving placing them edge to edge on each other in long lines or angular patterns.
When the first domino is tipped over, it sets in motion a chain reaction that continues until all the pieces have fallen. Like a firing neuron in the brain, each domino transmits energy to the next one in line, providing the push it needs to fall over. In a domino show, builders construct elaborate sets of them in careful sequence and watch as the whole thing falls with just the nudge of one.
The Domino Effect is the figurative use of this same concept, which describes how something that starts out minor can create much larger–even catastrophic–consequences. For example, if a child begins practicing his soccer skills in the driveway, it can lead to the formation of an entire youth league. Similarly, if a school district promotes its best teachers, it can lead to higher test scores in the classroom. In this way, the domino effect is a positive force that can spread to many parts of an organization.
Dominoes are also a visual metaphor for how a novel’s story unfolds. Just as each domino is a part of a larger pattern, each scene in your story must fit into the overall narrative. Whether you’re a pantser, meaning you don’t make detailed outlines, or a plotter who uses a software program such as Scrivener to help with your planning, you must keep in mind that the end of your story will be a line of scenes, one after another, advancing toward the climax.
To ensure that all the dominoes in your story connect in a meaningful way, you must carefully plan each one and lay it out. If you don’t, the final product will look haphazard and muddled. For example, if your character uncovers an important clue but then spends the rest of the book investigating it, your reader will have trouble connecting it with your story’s main action.
When Hevesh builds one of her domino shows, she follows a version of the engineering-design process, starting with the theme or purpose of the installation. Then she brainstorms images or words that might relate to it. She also decides on a layout and chooses the pieces she wants to use. Finally, she considers how the layout will work structurally and how the piece will be used by her audience. She might even consider the impact on the environment. By following this process, she can ensure that all the dominoes are placed in exactly the right places to build a stunning display. This kind of care in the construction and arrangement of a scene can give your narrative a compelling momentum.