How the Domino Effect Works in Fiction

Domino is a small rectangular block, the face of which is either blank or bearing from one to six pips or dots resembling those on dice. A complete set of dominoes consists of 28 such pieces. A variety of games are played with them, often by matching the ends of two adjacent pieces to form chains that gradually increase in length.

Many children love to play with these little rectangles and line them up in long rows before knocking them down. Those who write novels sometimes use the image of the domino effect to describe scenes that occur in sequence and naturally influence the ones that come before them. Whether you compose your manuscript off the cuff or work with an outline, understanding how the domino effect works can help you write more compelling stories.

The story of Domino’s Pizza is a good example of the domino effect in action. The company experienced significant growth during the early 1990s, but a series of leadership changes eroded its market share and financial stability. By 2004, Domino’s was more than $943 million in debt, and its future seemed uncertain.

In an attempt to resurrect its fortunes, Domino’s began opening new stores in China and Taiwan. However, the company failed to gain a solid foothold in these markets and was forced to close its operations there in 2017. This failure was a classic case of the domino effect in action.

The chain’s failure to make a strong start in these new markets resulted from a lack of resources, inadequate marketing, and poor planning. These shortcomings were compounded by a weak economy and a sour public perception of the brand. These factors eventually pushed Domino’s over the edge, and the company went bankrupt in 2004.

Like Domino’s, your novel can suffer if you don’t have a plan for it. While some writers prefer to compose their manuscripts off the cuff, others choose to work with an outline and a writing program such as Scrivener. Regardless of the method you choose, plotting your novel will ultimately come down to one simple question: What happens next? Understanding how the domino effect works can help you answer this question in a compelling way.

As you build your storyline, think of each scene as a domino. Each scene should lead to the next in a predictable way, and each scene should have enough impact on the ones before it to create tension. If your scene does not do this, it may be time to rewrite it. Similarly, if your characters engage in repetitive activities that don’t advance the plot, they may need to be replaced with more interesting or exciting scenes.