What is Domino?

A domino is a tile with a series of dots or pips on one face and a blank or identically patterned other face. Each domino has an identifying number of pips on the other face, and each domino can be matched to another only if the two tiles’ identifying sides match. Dominoes are traditionally made of bone or ivory and have a black or white background, but they can also be manufactured from other natural materials such as stone (usually marble, granite or soapstone), hardwoods like ebony; wood veneers such as cedar, oak and redwood; metals (usually brass or pewter); ceramic clay; and even crystal. Some of these materials have a more novel look and feel, and are often heavier in weight than the polymer dominoes used today.

A plethora of games can be played with domino, and they generally fall into two categories, blocking games and scoring games. Blocking games require players to empty their hands of tiles while preventing the opponent from doing so. Scoring games involve laying down one domino after the other in such a way that all adjacent sides of the pieces match or form some specified total, such as 12 or more points. Many of these games are adaptations of card games, and they may have been popular in some places to circumvent religious prohibitions against playing cards.

Some domino games have no fixed rules, and others are determined by chance. For example, the game of 42 involves four players paired into teams who draw seven dominoes each. They then play them into tricks, with each trick counting as one point. The first player to reach 42 points wins the hand.

Many other domino games are designed to encourage social interaction, but some are simply entertainment. For example, some people enjoy watching a skilled domino builder create elaborate and imaginative reaction and effect before a live audience. There are even professional domino shows, where builders compete to set up huge lineups of hundreds or thousands of dominoes that will topple with the slightest nudge.

For writers, the concept of domino is a useful one because it provides an analogy for how a story develops. The scene dominoes in a story might be the revelation of important information, an argument or confrontation, or an event that triggers the next scene in the narrative. If the next scene doesn’t build on or add to the preceding one in a meaningful way, then the overall impact of the plot is reduced.

Whether you write off the cuff or with an outline, thinking of scenes as dominoes can help you focus on what’s most important in your story. Then, as you build your narrative, you’ll be able to use the “domino effect” to keep the reader engaged. And that, after all, is the essence of narrative. —Kate Doyle, author of the novels “The House of the Rising Sun” and “Rising Sun” and the short story collection “The Last Great American Invention.” Copyright 2019 by Kate Doyle.