Writing a Novel Like a Domino


We’ve all seen domino constructions, where by just tipping the first piece ever-so-slightly, a beautiful cascade of rhythmic movement falls in its wake. It’s a metaphor for how the right “domino” can trigger the whole chain reaction of a story—or in our case, a novel.

A domino is a rectangular tile bearing a number of identifying marks, normally an arrangement of spots like those on dice. The other side of the tile is blank or identically patterned. There are many types of games played with dominoes; most involve positioning the tiles edge to edge against one another so that the identifiers match. A domino set has from six to twenty-four identifiers on each end of the tiles. Some sets include additional identifiers on the ends to allow the player to play a variation on a familiar game, such as a variant of Concentration or other trick-taking games.

Dominoes are also used to make elaborate works of art, such as a curved line of dominoes that looks like a snake, or a grid that forms pictures when the dominoes fall. They can also be used to make 3-D structures, such as towers and pyramids. Some artists even create domino designs to accompany movies, TV shows, and events—like a recent album launch for Katy Perry.

When you make a change in one behavior, it can have a domino effect and shift related behaviors, like eating better or exercising more. For example, a study found that when people decreased their time spent in sedentary leisure activities, they also reduced their fat intake. That’s because they weren’t necessarily trying to eat less fat, but the reduction in sedentary time made it easier for them to follow through on their good intentions.

The same principle applies to writing a novel: when you think about the sequence of events, you can treat each scene like its own domino that needs to be tipped over in order for the next one to happen. In fact, it’s helpful to see the whole plot of a novel as a series of dominoes that build toward a climax. This approach helps you break the process down into manageable, achievable steps.

It can be a great way to keep the plot of a novel on track, too. Just as the first domino in a row of dominoes is usually a large one, it’s the most important domino and should be the domino that you place on the top of your stack. This should be the task that you prioritize, focus on until completion, and then move on to the next. Then, you’ll be well on your way to a successful outcome.