A domino is a small rectangular block of wood or plastic bearing from one to six pips or dots like those on dice. A complete set of dominoes consists of 28 such pieces. A game played with these tiles involves placing them in lines or angular patterns on a table and positioning each domino to touch the ends of the adjacent dominoes so that when one is moved, others follow suit in a chain reaction. The term domino also refers to a small victory that sets off a series of other victories, as in “Domino effect” (see below).
A player begins a domino game by drawing a tile from the stock, which he then places on the table face up. Depending on the rules of the specific game being played, this first domino may be referred to as the set, the down, or the lead. If the draw results in a tie, it is broken by drawing new tiles from the stock until a winner is determined. After the first play, players must continue to place dominoes edge to edge on the table, according to the rules of the particular game being played.
Dominoes are arranged in groups called hands, and each hand contains either doubles or singles, as dictated by the rules of the game being played. Some games allow the same player to make more than one play in a turn, and there are even some that require only one play per turn. The deciding factor in which player will make the first play is usually determined by the number of doubles in his hand, but some rules state that any type of domino may be used to start a chain reaction.
When a domino is stood upright, it stores potential energy from the force of gravity. When it is then pushed, much of this energy is converted to kinetic energy and causes the domino to fall over. Physicist Stephen Morris explains that when a domino is pushed, it is like a piece of dynamite, and as it falls, it creates a chain reaction causing more and more dynamite to be detonated.
The word domino is often used in political and business contexts to describe a situation in which one event causes another, and then more and more events to follow. It was coined in 1954 by journalist Robert Alsop in a newspaper column about the way that Communism would spread throughout Indochina if not stopped. President Eisenhower later used the idiom in a press conference to explain America’s decision to offer aid to South Vietnam, and it became widely accepted as a metaphor for events that are unpredictable and difficult to stop once they get started.
When you are writing a novel, it can be helpful to think of each scene as a domino. Whether you write your manuscript off the cuff or carefully outline it, plotting a story is really about setting up situations that will naturally influence what happens next, just as a single domino tipping over triggers more and more of them.