The Domino Effect in Fiction

A domino is a rectangular piece of wood, clay, or plastic with one or more squares that are marked with an arrangement of dots. Each domino has an identity-bearing side and a blank or identically patterned opposite side. The domino’s identifying marks, also called pips, range from six to zero indicating the number of spots on its face. The number of pips indicates the rank or weight of the piece.

Dominoes have many different uses, but they are most commonly used for positional games. In a positional game, each player takes turns placing a domino edge to edge against another in such a way that the adjacent sides match or form some specified total. Some examples of these are tic-tac-toe, nines, and domino stud. In the case of tic-tac-toe, for example, each player places a tile so that it touches one end of an existing chain and is left with nothing on its open end. This is said to “stitched up” the ends of the chain.

Whether you compose your novel off the cuff or with a careful outline, plotting your story comes down to answering one simple question: What happens next? Using the domino effect in your fiction can help you answer this question and draw readers into your story.

The word domino derives from the Latin dominum, meaning ‘a lead or a beginning.’ It was likely first recorded in the mid-18th century in Italy and France, where it may have been introduced by French prisoners toward the end of that period. Earlier, the term had been used to describe a long hooded cloak worn together with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. It is possible that the name was derived from the color of ebony black domino pieces contrasting with the priest’s white surplice, and later became a synonym for a cape worn by the wearer at a carnival or masquerade.

After a domino is shuffled and the players have drawn their tiles, the person with the highest double makes the first play. If there is a tie, it is broken by drawing additional tiles from the stock until a player has a high enough double to play. Rules for some games may also specify that a player who draws the heaviest tile must make the first play.

When a domino is played, its open end becomes part of the line of play and must be covered before the next player plays a tile. If a player plays a tile out of turn, he must immediately take back his turn. If he does not do so, the next player must place a tile on his double to continue the line of play.

There are a large number of domino games, but most of them fit into one of four categories: bidding games, blocking games, scoring games, and round games. A winning player in a game scores by counting the pips on the dominoes in the losing players’ hands at the end of the hand or game.