Thinking of Your Scenes Like Dominoes

Whether you write a novel off the cuff or make detailed outlines using software like Scrivener, your story ultimately boils down to one question: What happens next? The answer to that question can be the key to creating an engaging narrative. To do it well, your scenes must logically impact each other, much like dominoes tumble in a chain reaction. But sometimes even the most carefully constructed scene can be a failure if it doesn’t provide enough tension or a compelling reason to move forward. Luckily, there’s a way to fix that problem—by thinking of your scenes like dominoes.

Dominoes are small, rectangular blocks that are used as gaming pieces. They usually have a flat side that bears an arrangement of dots or symbols, and a blank or identically patterned side. A domino can be made from wood, bone or carved ivory–materials readily available in the past–but is more often now manufactured from heavy plastic. The name for these small, thumbsized blocks is the same as for a card: domino (dominoes in plural).

The most popular use of domino is to play games of chance. Each player takes turns laying a domino on the table, positioning it so that it touches either end of a line or pattern of dots, or a set of dominoes already in place, and thus initiates a series of new dominoes to be played. When a player cannot play a domino, that player “knocks” the table and the turn passes to the opponent. The game stops when all of a player’s dominoes are “played.”

Many other games can be played with a set of dominoes, and they have various educational benefits for children. For example, the act of placing the dominoes in exact spots can sharpen a child’s sense of spatial awareness, and identifying the different colors of dominoes helps to develop his or her color recognition skills. Fine motor abilities are also strengthened as kids manipulate the small pieces.

While the game of domino can be a lot of fun, it is important for a child to learn how to handle and respect the dominoes, so that they will last and remain in good shape for future play. For this reason, it is recommended that a child under the age of five not play with a set of dominoes until the child is old enough to understand the rules of the game and how to properly care for the tiles.

When Hevesh Morris, a professional domino artist, creates one of her stunning installations, it can take several nail-biting minutes for the thousands of dominoes to fall in a perfectly ordered chain. This is because the individual dominoes have inertia: they resist motion unless there is an outside force applied. But once that first domino reaches its tipping point, the energy it stored releases with a cascade of dominoes crashing down in a beautiful sequence. In the same way, a writer needs to be able to anticipate when a certain scene is reaching its tipping point.