Writing Fiction Using the Domino Model


Dominoes are small, flat rectangular blocks used as gaming objects. Also known as bones, cards, men or pieces, they feature a line down the center to divide them visually into two square ends that vary in value by the number of spots, called pips, on each side. Most dominoes are double-sided and able to be stacked on top of one another. Dominoes can be arranged in long lines that are triggered to fall by the nudge of the first domino or in patterns that form pictures, 3D structures, or other arrangements. Dominos can be played with one or more players and games are played until either the players run out of their pieces or there is a winner.

A domino effect occurs when one simple action leads to much greater—and often catastrophic—consequences. It’s a powerful lesson that can apply to many aspects of life, including writing fiction. Whether you write your manuscript off the cuff or use a detailed outline, it’s important to consider every plot beat as a potential domino that can tip over if not properly positioned. Using the domino model will help you develop your story in a way that’s engaging and compelling to readers.

For example, a single domino can lead to the destruction of an entire city or the launch of a rocket into space. Or it can be a more mundane event, such as a car crash or a trip to the zoo. In both cases, the outcome depends on how the initial action is executed and how the characters react to it.

To understand how a domino effect works, try this experiment: Place a series of dominoes upright on a table or floor. Then, gently nudge the first one. Watch what happens as the dominoes start to fall. Then, reset the dominoes and see if you can cause them to fall in a different direction or speed. Eventually, you’ll discover how the position and size of a domino affects the speed and direction of its falling.

Once the first domino is tipped, it triggers a chain reaction that continues until all the pieces are toppled. Dominos can be arranged in straight or curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. Domino builders compete at domino shows where they set up hundreds or thousands of dominoes in carefully crafted sequence and then nudge each piece into place to create a complex, imaginative domino reaction before an audience.

Hevesh, a domino artist who’s created mind-blowing installations involving thousands of pieces, says that science plays an important role in her work. In fact, she applies a version of the engineering-design process when she plans a new project.

She starts with a theme and brainstorms images or words that might relate to it. Then she begins designing the track for the dominoes to follow. Then she calculates how many dominoes will be needed for the desired shape and layout. Finally, she tests her layout in a controlled environment to make sure it will work as intended.