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The Domino Effect


When a domino is tipped just so, the rest fall in a beautiful cascade of rhythmic motion. The term “domino effect” refers to any actions that have this kind of a ripple effect, and it is a powerful concept that applies to many areas of life.

A Domino

The earliest known use of the word “domino” dates to the 1700s when it was used as the name for a hooded robe worn with an eye mask at a carnival or masquerade. Later, it was used for a small rectangular block that is tipped ever so slightly to set off a chain reaction. When it comes to writing, I often ask my clients to think of each scene as a domino. It is important to space the scenes so that they advance the story and move the hero farther from or closer to his goal, but also so that the reader does not get bogged down with a lot of detail that slows the pace of the narrative.

A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block, the face of which is divided into two squares each bearing an arrangement of dots, resembling those on dice, from one to six in number: 28 such pieces form a complete set. A domino has both potential energy and kinetic energy (energy of movement), which it stores as it is held upright, but once it falls, much of that potential energy is converted to the kinetic energy of moving the dominos in the chain reaction.

Unlike traditional playing cards, each domino has a unique identity on both sides. The identifying mark on the one side is called a pip and can be either blank or marked. The other side of a domino is usually divided with a line or ridge into two squares, each of which bears an identical pattern of dots.

Most dominoes are white on top and black on bottom, but some sets contain different color combinations. A domino can be played in a variety of ways, but the most common is to place it so that its matching end touches a double, either cross-ways or lengthwise, and then to play a tile onto it. This will start a chain reaction involving the two tiles played and all other doubles in the line.

Physicist Stephen Morris notes that a domino standing up stores some potential energy, but as it falls, much of this is converted to kinetic energy, which causes other dominoes to tip and then to fall. A similar phenomenon occurs in the way that a person can build positive behaviors that create a domino effect. For example, when Jennifer Dukes Lee began making her bed every day, this led to other behaviors that reinforced her new self-image as a person who always makes her bed. These, in turn, can help her maintain a clean and organized house. In the same way, a person who has established a habit of doing something such as exercising or making healthy food choices can create a domino effect that can lead to greater health and well-being.