Writing With Dominoes

Domino (dom*i*no*, dom*i*noes, or dominoes) are small, flat rectangular blocks each bearing from one to six numbered spots or dots, arranged in two rows of three. Each tile has a line in the center to divide it visually into two squares, called ends, that may be either identical or marked differently. The value of each end is indicated by its arrangement of pips, with the number of pips on a side giving a rank or weight.

A large collection of dominoes can be used to play games such as slapjack or poker, or they may serve as a simple way of counting to one hundred. Dominoes are usually played with a set of rules governing how the pieces are laid, and how they fall. Each tile can only be matched with another domino that has an identical arrangement of spots or pips on each end; the other ends are blank or have no value.

The domino effect is a well-known phenomenon, whereby a single action creates a chain reaction that continues to escalate. This is seen in everything from a simple act of kindness that makes waves in the lives of those around us, to the ripples created when Admiral William H. McRaven makes his bed every morning.

When we are writing a story, it can be helpful to think of each scene as a domino. If a writer is a pantser—that is, she writes her manuscript off the cuff without using outlines or software like Scrivener—each scene should be able to influence the scenes that come before it in a similar way. If a scene in a mystery, for example, uncovers an important clue, but the next scene doesn’t build on that discovery, something is wrong.

Lily Hevesh, a 20-year-old professional domino artist who has more than 2 million YouTube subscribers, builds incredible displays with thousands of dominoes that take several nail-biting minutes to complete. Her largest installations are curved arrangements that involve hundreds of dominoes and can weigh more than 100 pounds. She tests each section of a display and films it in slow motion to ensure that each domino falls correctly. Aside from physics, the most important factor in building a stunning domino set is precision. Each piece needs to be positioned exactly where it belongs to ensure that it hits the right spot and triggers the dominoes that follow. The final result is a spectacular and mesmerizing display that can leave viewers in awe. If you’re ever tempted to try your hand at building a domino setup, Hevesh’s tips might just give you the confidence you need to get started. She recommends starting with the largest, flat sections first and moving on to the more complex 3-D designs. You should also test each section of your display by placing one domino at a time and ensuring that it can successfully be toppled.