Story Structure and Dominoes

A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block, marked on one side with an arrangement of dots like those on dice. It has a blank or identically patterned other side. When it is tipped ever-so-slightly, the entire set falls in a beautiful cascade of rhythmic movement. We can learn much about story structure from the way a domino works.

If you watch an expert domino artist in action, you’ll see how they carefully plan and position each domino before letting it fall. They may even take a break between sets to rest their fingers, but they are always mindful of what happens next. This is the way we should approach our writing. Whether you write off the cuff or take your time with an outline, your manuscript should flow in a way that makes sense to the reader. This means your scenes advance the hero’s goal (or at least, make it clear why he is going against societal norms) but aren’t too long or too short. In other words, they are “just right.”

Hevesh has worked on projects involving 300,000 dominoes and helped set a Guinness record for the most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement. She describes the process of creating her mind-blowing arrangements as a sort of engineering design process. She starts with considering the theme or purpose of the installation and then brainstorms images that would work well with it. Next, she creates a model of the overall structure and tests out each section to see how it will function.

Once she has the most-complicated sections working, Hevesh can begin putting them all together. The biggest 3-D sections go up first, followed by flat arrangements and lines of dominoes that connect them all together. She always shoots her videos of these creations in slow motion to catch any mistakes that might occur. It can take several nail-biting minutes for her largest installations to fully fall, but Hevesh knows that each domino will tumble according to the laws of physics.

Physicist Stephen Morris agrees that gravity is the key to a good domino setup. When a domino is standing upright, it stores energy as potential energy, which will be released when it’s knocked over. When a domino falls, that potential energy converts to kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, and some of it is transmitted to the next domino, providing the push needed for it to fall as well. This continues on from domino to domino, and the result is a beautiful cascade of kinetic energy.

Dominoes are popular for a variety of games, the most common being blocking or scoring games. The most popular commercially available sets contain double six or double nine tiles. There are also larger sets for players who want to play longer games. Some of these larger sets include dominoes with alternate color pips to make it easier to identify the number of each tile. Some domino sets are arranged into suits of different numbers, and each tile belongs to either the suit of that number or the suit of blanks, which is called the zero suit.