Writing Fiction and Domino

Domino is a flat thumb-sized rectangular block, normally blank or bearing from one to six pips (dots). A domino set consists of 28 such tiles. Each tile is matched edge to edge with another, so that all the pips match or are adjacent, and they can be laid down in lines and angular patterns. The word is also used for any of the many games played with such pieces, usually positional games in which each player takes turns placing a domino edge to edge against another so that the adjacent ends of the two match or form some specified total. Such games are often adaptations of card games which circumvented religious proscriptions against playing cards.

A domino has no intrinsic value, but its enduring popularity and the wide variety of games available make it a popular pastime for millions worldwide. Many people have a knack for building elaborate domino constructions, ranging from straight lines that look like domino tracks to curved or gridding structures that create pictures when they fall. Some even build 3D towers or pyramids. These constructions are known as domino art. In the world of competitive domino building, these artists are called domino masters and they are able to create complex domino effects that rival real life, complete with a captivating cascade of sound when a single domino is tipped ever so slightly.

The same principles that are embraced in domino construction can be applied to writing fiction. If a writer is a pantster, that is, doesn’t write an outline or use a software program like Scrivener to organize their work, the story will probably have scenes that—like dominoes that aren’t placed at the right angles—don’t have enough logical impact. Considering the “domino effect” as a metaphor for plotting can help writers figure out how to improve their stories.

In the world of domino, each tile plays an important role in the forming of chains, but its primary function is to indicate the number it bears. The number may be useful to the player or distasteful to his opponents; if both sides of a domino show the same number, that is to say, the end of the chain has been “stitched up” with the matching ends facing the wrong direction, the result being that no domino can be laid on it until the chain is reversed.

The word domino comes from the Latin verb domina, meaning “to impose,” and refers to the orderly way in which the pieces fall. The first domino to touch a matching end begins a chain of events that can reach all the way around the room or the world. In the same way, a domino that is not positioned at the correct angle or in the proper position on the table can disrupt a scene, making it less compelling and dramatic for readers. To prevent this, a domino must be moved into its proper place by someone other than the player who knocked it off the table or whose turn it was to play.