The Domino Effect in Writing Novels

A domino is a small rectangular game piece with anywhere from 0 to 6 dots. It’s used in a variety of games, and when it’s knocked over, it sets off a chain reaction that can knock down hundreds and sometimes thousands of other pieces. This use of the domino has inspired the term “domino effect,” meaning that one action inevitably causes others to follow.

Dominoes are popular because they’re easy to play and can be set up in some pretty elaborate patterns. But a more important reason they’re so popular is that when you knock over one, the entire chain crashes down. This is a great metaphor for how powerful one little thing can be, and it can help us to understand how we can achieve our goals by building a series of small victories.

One of the most important lessons I try to teach my book editing clients is how to think about each small action as a domino. If you think about every single plot beat in a novel as a domino, then you can see how the story arc can unfold like a chain reaction. Whether you’re writing off the cuff or have a careful outline, each moment you take to write can be like a domino—it can tip over the rest of the structure and change everything.

This domino approach is especially useful for writing novels. Plotting a novel comes down to answering a simple question: What happens next? Considering how the domino principle can help you answer that question will make your story more compelling.

Domino’s started out as a family-owned pizza company in the mid-1960s, and its founder, Dominick Monaghan, figured out a way to capitalize on the chain of events that leads to success. He began by opening stores near college campuses, which brought in a young and hungry crowd. He also focused on speed of service, and this helped the business grow quickly. In 1967, Domino’s opened its first franchise location in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Over the years, Domino’s has expanded its menu and its reach. But the company has faced challenges over the past few decades. In 2004, it was $943 million in debt, and the previous CEO, David Brandon, had a reputation for not listening to customers. It was clear that Domino’s needed a shake-up.

Taking charge of Domino’s was new CEO Steve Doyle’s biggest challenge. He knew that to revitalize the company, Domino’s would have to innovate its products and services. That meant rethinking how people ordered pizza (the company now offers ordering by Twitter or text message, in addition to their traditional phone line); revamping its delivery system; and embracing new technologies.

Doyle also worked to refocus the company’s mission. Its goal now is to be the best pizza delivery company in the world—not just its home market of the United States. It also means expanding into other parts of the globe where Domino’s hasn’t yet established a presence.