The Domino Effect in Fiction and Movies

Domino is a family of tile-based games, typically played with a set of double-twelve or double-nine dominoes. Each domino has a unique mark on one side, called an identifier, and a blank or matching pattern on the other. A domino may also have a value on its ends, usually an arrangement of dots (also called “pips”), or none at all.

In games of domino, players set up a row of dominoes and then play them in order. When a player cannot lay a domino, he or she “chips out,” or knocks the table to stop play and pass the turn to the next player. Players try to win by playing all their dominoes or, if the game is a partnership, by having the highest total of spots on their remaining pieces.

Many domino games involve building chains or structures with the dominoes, such as stacked walls or pyramids. Others are positional, with each domino placed edge to edge against another in a way that they match or form a specific total. Traditionally, these games are played by two or more people with a set of dominoes and a domino “boneyard,” or stack of spare tiles.

A domino’s ability to trigger a chain reaction is partly due to gravity. When a domino is stood upright, it has potential energy, or stored energy, based on its position. But when a domino falls, it converts that energy to kinetic energy, or energy of motion. Some of this energy is transmitted to the next domino, giving it the push it needs to topple. The same principle applies to nerve impulses, which travel along the length of an axon at a constant rate regardless of the size of the triggering signal.

The same principle is at work in a story, as well. A single scene domino, like a character discovering a clue or getting pulled over by a cop, can have an impact on a whole storyline. Whether you are a plotter who makes detailed outlines or a pantser who lets the story take over as you write, you can use the “domino effect” to your advantage.

If a dominant character experiences a setback or failure, the effects can be dramatic. The “domino effect” can lead to a reversal of fortune, a major shift in plot, or a whole series of smaller events that create a chain reaction that leads to the story’s climax. When your protagonist’s life is turned upside down, it can have a ripple effect on those around him or her, as friends and family may begin to question his or her credibility. That’s why it is important to be a dominant character-to stand up for yourself when necessary, and to help others do the same.