You’ve probably seen those satisfying videos of a long chain of dominoes toppling away until they reach the end. The physics of how this happens is fascinating. A small nudge of a domino can set off a huge wave of movement. It’s the same kind of energy transfer that occurs when a nerve impulse fires across an axon, but much larger since the entire length of a domino is involved.
There are many kinds of domino games, from simple ones like block building to more complicated scoring or blocking games that use a special table with a grid pattern that forms pictures when the dominoes fall. A person who plays domino can also make domino art, with curved lines, a grid that forms letters when the dominoes are arranged in a word or sentence, and even 3D structures like towers or pyramids.
Dominoes are small rectangular blocks, usually wood or plastic, marked with dots resembling those on dice. Each domino has potential energy, a kind of stored energy based on its position and other factors, and it takes a lot of energy to keep a domino upright. But when a domino is knocked over, it immediately converts most of its potential energy into kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, which causes other dominoes to fall.
The way that a domino falls is also interesting because it happens at a constant rate, independent of the size of the triggering force and in only one direction—just like a nerve impulse traveling down an axon. That makes the domino effect a great metaphor for things that happen in life, especially when something big tips someone or something else over the edge.
For example, if a woman is pulled over for a minor traffic violation while driving her car, it can cause legal and social consequences that impact the rest of her life in unexpected ways. A business that loses a client can have a similar domino effect on the whole company, even though that loss may be relatively small in financial terms.
The same principle of a domino effect applies to the way that scenes in a novel influence each other. Whether you write your manuscript off the cuff or carefully construct a detailed outline, the story of your novel depends on each scene to influence what comes next. Each scene is a domino that must fall in the right order to create a coherent whole.
The word domino means “first.” It’s used as a noun to describe the first domino played in a game or the first move made in a sequence of moves. The word domino is also a verb, meaning to “play a domino,” to place a domino on the table in such a way that it touches one or more other dominoes, either directly or indirectly. A player can play a domino onto a double or a line of play, and can also play a domino that has on it a number showing at both ends of the chain (called “stitched up” ends).