What is a Domino Effect?

A domino effect occurs when a series of events cause another set of actions to occur in rapid succession. The term is often used metaphorically, to describe causal links in larger systems such as global finance or politics. The term may also be applied to physical sequences such as the collapse of a Rube Goldberg machine or the fall of a piece of furniture that triggers a chain reaction that eventually brings down the entire structure.

Dominoes, cousins to playing cards and similar to dice, have been one of humanity’s oldest tools for game play. Whether in a professional domino competition or on your kitchen table, these small rectangular blocks offer a variety of challenges and tests of skill and patience. Each domino has a line down the middle, dividing it into two squares. The identity-bearing side is marked with an arrangement of spots resembling those on a die. The blank or empty ends are marked with either zero, one, three, four or six, depending on the game rules in use.

When a player is able to play a domino with an end matching one of the open ends of a layout, that tile becomes part of a chain of tiles called a “domino.” These chains are normally placed across the face of the board and can grow to be very long.

Each player takes turns playing a domino, positioning it so that its adjacent end matches an open end of the existing layout. Then the player places a new tile over the top of the previous domino, thereby adding it to the growing chain. The first player to complete a domino chain wins the game.

Dominoes can be played with any number of players, but games are most commonly contested between partners in teams of equal size. In some cases, the winner is the partner with the highest total score after a given number of rounds. To determine this, the opponents’ combined total of all their remaining dominoes is counted. Typically, a double counts as one, but some games allow it to be counted as two or even as 14 (this must be agreed upon by the players before the game begins).

The speed and length of a domino chain depend on how well the player and his or her opponent are able to read each other’s faces and to anticipate which end will be covered by a future tile. When a player is unable to place a domino, he or she passes the turn until a suitable domino is available.

When writing a story, the same principle applies: the pace of the narrative must move quickly enough to keep readers engaged and able to follow the action. This means that scenes should be long enough to advance the story forward and not overlong (making it feel slow or sluggish) and short enough not to be boring or distracting. Fortunately, just like a domino layout, there are many ways to create and manage this balance.

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