How to Set Up a Domino Effect

Whether you plot your novel off the cuff or use a careful outline, a successful story eventually comes down to one simple question: What happens next? And how can you make that happen in a way that will keep readers engaged and wanting more? The domino effect provides an interesting way to think about this question, and it’s a concept that can be applied to any piece of fiction.

Dominoes, which also are known as bones, cards, men, or pieces, were first used to represent the results of throwing two six-sided dice. They have a line in the middle that visually divides them into two squares. Each side has a different marking, called a pip, which identifies the value of each corner. Dominoes come in many shapes and sizes, but they’re usually twice as long as they are wide. When you set up a domino, you must place it so that its exposed ends touch another tile and the numbers on each end match. Then you can begin a chain reaction by simply sliding the next piece into place.

The force of gravity is critical when it comes to creating a mind-blowing domino setup, says Hevesh, who’s helped set the Guinness World Record for the most dominoes fallen in a circular arrangement. She uses a version of the engineering-design process when she creates her installations, and she films the tests in slow motion to make sure that each element works perfectly.

Once she’s finished a layout, she begins with the biggest 3-D sections and then adds flat arrangements. She carefully arranges each section until she’s satisfied that it will work, then places dominoes into the spaces between them. Hevesh then begins the process of letting the dominoes fall according to the laws of physics.

As each domino falls, it transforms its potential energy into kinetic energy, or the energy of motion. This energy is transmitted to the next domino, which gives it a push that knocks it over, and so on down the line. Then the dominoes stop falling as their kinetic energy runs out.

While dominoes can be arranged in a number of ways, the classic block game is the most popular. Each player takes turns picking a domino from the pile and placing it on the table so that its exposed ends are touching another domino. As each domino is placed, it builds up a chain and a score, which is normally determined by the number of spots on both ends that match (for example, one’s touching one’s or two’s touching two’s). If the total points equals a multiple of five, the player is awarded those points. If not, play passes to the other players. In some versions of the block game, a player can win by “knocking” all of his or her remaining tiles. This is often called “playing out.”