If you’ve ever watched a domino construction—where, after the first piece is tipped just so, all the others fall in a beautiful rhythmic cascade—you’re experiencing an example of “the domino effect.” This rule applies to any action that sets off other events, resulting in a sequence of effects that continue to unfold. Whether you’re writing an outline or plotting your novel off the cuff, understanding how to use the domino effect in your story can help you structure and pace your novel in a way that keeps readers engaged.

Dominoes are a type of tile game with a distinctive shape that features one side bearing an arrangement of dots or pips, similar to those used on dice, and the other side blank or identically patterned. They’re used in positional games, where a player places a domino edge to edge with another in such a manner that adjacent faces form an ordered total or some other specified value.

There are numerous rules governing the play of dominoes, and a given set may have many different configurations of tiles—this configuration is called a layout or string, but it also can refer to a specific pattern of plays. For most domino games played with a standard double-six set, the number of dominoes required to form a line of play is limited by the total number of pips on the open ends of the pieces (although some extended sets have larger maximum numbers of pips on the end of a domino).

After the dominoes have been shuffled and the stock has been arranged, each player draws a hand of dominoes, or a number of them as stipulated by the rules of the game being played. The player with the highest domino in his or her hand, which is sometimes referred to as the heaviest tile or the high double, makes the first play. In some cases, the game rules may specify that a tie is broken by drawing new hands; in others, the winner of the last game makes the initial play.

In addition to blocking and scoring, dominoes can be used in a variety of other games. These include trick-taking games, some of which were developed to circumvent religious prohibitions against playing cards. Other types of domino play are more abstract, including games that encourage concentration and planning.

For example, in a game like domino art, players work together to create a design with a theme, such as a cityscape or a picture frame, with dominoes laid out on the floor in a grid that forms the desired image. These dominoes are then scored according to the winning design. This is an excellent way to improve concentration and plan for future games—as well as to practice the technique of “spotting,” or counting the pips on adjacent dominoes, which is necessary for some advanced domino designs.

How to Use the Domino Effect in Your Novel