First Win, Then Work YKTTW Discussion

First Win, Then Work
Someone uses a skill spectacularly once, showing their potential, then has to learn from scratch.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-12-02 12:18:50 sponsor: hyphz edited by: Arivne (last reply: 2013-05-08 00:44:46)

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There are some skills - mainly creative ones - that can be a huge gamble to develop. They take a lot of work and dedication to get good at, but even if you put that in, there's still a natural component that determines how you'll do at the highest level. You can train as a runner for ten years, but there's no guarantee that others won't still be faster than you.

Of course, that constant feeling of uncertainty isn't necessarily something viewers like in a hero, so there's a standard fictional solution: before doing any work on the skill at all, the character manages a single and spectacular demonstration of it on the spot. The fact they were able to do this proves their talent, and they can start working on developing it without that essential doubt.

The ability for the character to use the skill spectacularly and yet still need to work on it is usually handwaved away in a number of ways: it can be unintentional, out of control, too infrequent to matter, or a one-off thing by fiat. It is also often contradicted by the character being remarkably incompetent at the skill once they actually begin to learn it.

Usually necessary in settings where powers are Randomly Gifted.

  • Beginner's Luck, where the revelation of latent talent occurs under tension and resolves conflict instead of beginning the plot.
  • The Gift and Born Winner, where the character's initial burst reveals they are awesome, but they then stay that way with no need to make effort to develop further.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works (or Unskilled, but Strong), where there is no effort made to develop the skill after the initial display, because doing so would be unnecessary and useless.

This classically appears in any story involving learning magic, largely because very strong evidence that magic exists and works is necessary for a character to convincingly decide to make effort learning it.


Anime and Manga
  • Early in the Bleach anime Ichigo Kurosaki demonstrated advanced powers and abilities that exceeded not only those of a normal human, but those of experienced soul reapers as well. In the first episode Ichigo managed to destroy a restraint kido spell that Rukia put on him before he even gained her powers, and in a later episode he used an advanced soul reaper search ability that he shouldn't have even known how to use. This was an indication of his enormous spiritual potential.

  • Harry Potter
    • He makes a protective pane of glass disappear without wand or incantation - a level of magic comparable to the staff at Hogwarts - before knowing anything about it. When he's at Hogwarts, he initially can't even cast a simple levitation charm correctly.
    • He also earns his position as seeker on the Quidditch team - where he is taught to expertly fly a broomstick in order to catch an elusive small object - by actually flying a broomstick and catching an elusive small object (Neville's rememberall) while never having ridden a broom before.
    • The first couple of times Harry speaks Parseltongue he does it by instinct and doesn't even realize he's doing it until Ron and Hermione point it out to him in Literature/Chamber of Secrets. Later in the book he struggles to do it on purpose.
  • In The Magicians, Quentin performs a whole series of spectacular transformations in order to gain entrance to Brakebills, but in his first lesson resorts to mundane stage magic tricks to hide his inability to do anything else. The professor does comment that's normal for a wizard to experience such a surge of power at first.
  • In Eragon the title character casts his first spell instinctively from desperation (he uses a fire spell to kill a pair of attacking urgals), then has to be trained on how to use magic in a controlled fashion. Brom explains that the Dragon Riders of old raised this to an art form by forcing their apprentices to perform impossible tasks until they ended up casting a spell to complete it out of frustration.
  • In His Dark Materials, Lyra Silvertongue is given an alethiometer (a device to discern truth) and has a natural talent for reading it -- which normally takes an adult many years of study to learn. Unfortunately, when (and, it is implied, because) she reaches puberty, she loses her talent, and embarks on the long study needed to regain it.

Video Games
  • One battle in Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has you fight against a Brainwashed And Crazy Adele. She has her unique job, and a skill to fire a huge laser. Finishing the battle allows the character to unlock this job, and she hasn't met the person who is supposed to teach her the skill.

Western Animation
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, some Cutie Marks (basically your Character Class assignment) appear to be earned this way. Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle's are especially notable in that one produces a mid-air explosion through Super Speed and the other blows up a castle by causing a dragon to be Born As An Adult.

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