How Dominoes Can Help You Plot a Novel


When a domino is tipped over, it transmits some of its potential energy to the next domino and gives it that extra push needed to fall. In this way, a chain reaction forms that continues until all the dominoes have fallen. This simple metaphor provides a powerful illustration of how one action can trigger much bigger consequences. It’s also a helpful tool for understanding how to plot a novel. Whether you write off the cuff or follow a meticulous outline, considering every scene in your story as a domino can help you build an engaging plot.

Domino is the name of a set of playing pieces, originally used to play games in which one domino was tipped over to bring about some sort of change. A very large variety of different types of dominoes are in use around the world, and there are many games that can be played with them. In the Western world, dominoes are most commonly used to play positional games. Each player in turn places a domino edge to edge against another domino that is already laid. Each domino must touch its adjacent matching side, and the two ends of each domino must be identical (unless it is a double, which can be placed perpendicular to a domino touching its middle).

A typical Western domino set consists of 28 tiles with a total of six pips on both ends. Depending on the rules of the game, these may be arranged in different ways to make up various combinations of spots from one to seven. Most of the most popular positional games use a standard double-six set, although some use a double-nine or double-twelve set instead.

In addition to the traditional dominoes made of ivory, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), and a dark hardwood such as ebony, sets have been made from many other materials. Some of these are made from stone (e.g., marble, granite, or soapstone); others are made of woods such as sycamore, redwood, and oak; metals such as brass, pewter, or copper; ceramic clay; or even ice cream sticks.

While a single domino is insignificant by itself, when the first one falls, it initiates a chain reaction that can have far-reaching and even catastrophic effects. This is the principle behind the common phrase “domino effect.”

Regardless of whether you are a pantster who writes without an outline, or a planner who uses a software program like Scrivener to plot your work, every scene in your story should contribute to what happens next. Just as a domino effect can be destructive, a story without the right logical progressions can become confusing and boring for readers.

Think of each scene in your book as a domino. In fiction, a domino is generally understood to be a scene that advances information or a character’s argument. But, like a domino, each scene must also have enough impact to cause the reader to want to know what happens next.

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