Every story has a moment—a subtle, almost imperceptible moment—where the course of the main character’s (MC) life changes forever (whether or not she knows it).
In my novel, it’s the moment when Heath—Surprise! The unnamed victim in the opening chapter has a name—decides to take a short cut through a part of town rougher than his blue collar hands.
Wait, what? A choice NOT EVEN MADE by my MC is what sends her life on a course she never truly intended? Yep. It’s true.
Sometimes it is the MC’s choice that puts the story in motion; sometimes it is someone else’s. Regardless, a choice is made and lives are changed.
I call it: The First Domino.
(Depending on the story structure modality you subscribe to… if you even subscribe to one at all… it may also be called the inciting incident or the catalyst, but I like to keep it simple, sweetheart, so First Domino it is.)
In my novel, Heath takes short cut —> Bad guys attempt to murder Heath —> MC is drawn to the murder and is triggered by what she sees —> MC breaks the rules and saves him (for reasons you’ll have to read to understand) —> and eventually Shit hits the fan.
Take out Heath’s choice and you have an entirely different story. (Believe me. I’ve written it, and it wasn’t pretty).
So why does it matter? Why tell you about the First Domino?
Because it happens in real life too.
I’m not very open with many about this, but I’ve been navigating through a faith transition for at least the past 3 years (though sometimes it seems I was headed this way my whole life). To friends and family who find out, it comes as a shock. They are quick to point to recent events or people and decide it must be this or it must be that. They blame, they question, they assume. I must be offended. It must be because I like to dye my hair crazy colors. It must be because I want to swear in my books. (Yep. All things I’ve been told). They think they’ve found the first domino and, in finding it, they think they know how to “fix it” as well.
But very few of them have connected the dots all the way back to the moment—the subtle, almost imperceptible moment in my life (to everyone but me)—7 years ago when I lay on the floor of the credit union where I worked, industrial carpet rough beneath my fingertips, wondering if my life had been good enough for God.
Because the man with the gun had threatened to kill me right before I heard him closing the door. Click.
I didn’t see the other options. I didn’t know he’d closed it behind him on his way out. I only knew I was going to die, my brain splattered across the carpet like spilled leftovers.
The First Domino.
His choice. My fallout.
So when you see someone you care about make a choice that seems to come from crazy left field, try to remember the First Domino. Try to remember that what you’re seeing now is a result of all the other dominos falling down in-between then and this moment. Try to remember that sometimes it wasn’t their choice, that they didn’t want the tiles of their life to cascade into chaos, one crashing after another until all that’s left is a mess too massive to sweep under the rug.
And if it’s you dealing with the fallout of events that spread through your life like a wildfire you can’t control, look for that First Domino. It won’t fix a damn thing, but it will help you make peace with everything that came after.
It wasn’t Fate, my friend. It was simply a First Domino.