Created By: hyphzDecember 2, 2012 Last Edited By: ArivneMay 8, 2013

First Win, Then Work

Someone uses a skill spectacularly once, showing their potential, then has to learn from scratch.

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Trope
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.

Contrast:
  • Beginners 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.

Examples

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.

Literature
  • 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 A 2 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.

Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • December 2, 2012
    lakingsif
    Harry Potter also shows great talent chasing Neville's rememberall and so is taught how to be a seeker and play quidditch.

    In Avatar:The Last Airbender (animated series, probably film too but I haven't seen it in a while) Aang is late for his waterbending lesson at the North water tribe and so told he can't attend until he shows that he is far superior. Also, Katara is initially told she's not allowed in because the skills are only passed onto boys until she shows how she is talented, especially in the way of the Southern water tribe, and they eventually let her in.
  • December 2, 2012
    hyphz
    I'm only really familiar with the Harry Potter films, but I know the books have a lot more about Quidditch in them. Do the books have detail on him learning how to fly a broom after chasing the rememberal, or show him being incompetent in his first games? If not, I wouldn't really think it fits, because the idea is a one-off demonstration of talent that starts an education, not one that just shows they're awesome and they stay that way.
  • December 3, 2012
    Arivne
    Compare Beginners Luck, which is about how a heroic youth will have skills and powers far beyond those of more experienced characters.

    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.
  • December 3, 2012
    TheHandle
  • December 3, 2012
    MiinU
    ^^^^@lakingsif - The Avatar example doesn't count; not for Aang, at least.

    • As the Avatar, Aang already possessed the innate ability to learn and master all 4 elements, which he demonstrated as early as "The Waterbending Scroll" episode, when he mimicked all of the techniques Katara was trying to teach him, and performed them better than she could, which caused her to become jealous.

    • Katara had been studying waterbending for years, prior to the start of the series, but was largely self-taught. Yet, the first real demonstration of her power and potential was in "The Boy in the Iceberg" episode, when she split the eponymous berg in half, in the midst of a temper tantrum.
  • December 3, 2012
    hyphz
    I like a lot of these examples, but I'm not familiar with the sources they come from - are they distinguished from The Gift and Born Winner by the use of spectacular ability being a one-off thing?

  • December 4, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ As far as I know Ichigo has never demonstrated either of those two abilities again, even when they would have been useful.
  • December 4, 2012
    lakingsif
    Yeh, in the first Harry Potter book he gets knocked out by a bludgeon in his first game. He's not very good to start with, and then I believe George and Fred tell him to practice by himself, so he gets better.
  • May 5, 2013
    Larkmarn
    The Katara example from Avatar doesn't really count either. Katara lost... the only reason she got training was that the fight convinced the teacher to teach her since she was the granddaughter of the guy's fiance.
  • May 5, 2013
    Darthcaliber
    Also the way the Harry Potter example is worded sounds inaccurate. Harry wasn't accepted to Hogwarts because of the glass incident. It just happened to have occurred shortly before he turned 11 which is the time young wizards begin their magic training. Both his parents were magic users and Hagrid even states Harry had been pre-approved from birth to attend Hogwarts.

  • May 5, 2013
    Bisected8
    It's also explained that young wizards (who aren't Neville Longbottom) accidentally performing magic is pretty common and the first book has a list of times it happened to Harry.
  • May 5, 2013
    hyphz
    It isn't supposed to imply that's what gets him accepted - it's possibly the Laconic that needs to change there, since the intent is that it demonstrates to the *reader*, and possibly to the character themselves (Harry in this case) their ability to learn it. It has to be there because without it Hagrid would just be a scary bearded man turning up at Harry's house and telling him he's a wizard completely out of the blue, with him having no suspicion that magic even exists. It's problematic in HP because for the entire rest of the series, not having a wand is presented as a devastating handicap, yet the entirely novice Harry can overcome it.
  • May 6, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    • One battle in Final Fantasy Tactics A 2 have you fight against a Brainwashed And Crazy Adele. She has her unique job, as well as a skill to fire a huge laser. However, the job itself can't be unlocked until you finish this battle, and she hasn't met the person who is supposed to teach her the skill.
  • May 6, 2013
    StarSword
    Gaming examples overlap with A Taste Of Power.

    Literature:
    • 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.

    Harry Potter again:
    • 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 Chamber of Secrets. Later in the book he struggles to do it on purpose.
  • May 6, 2013
    UltramarineAlizarin
    Assuming the reader isn't already familiar with Harry Potter, I think the reference to "Wingardiam Leviosa" should be rewritten as "a basic levitation charm".

    I can't think of any examples to contribute at the moment, but I like the trope idea.
  • May 6, 2013
    Trueman001
    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.
  • May 6, 2013
    StarSword
    @OP: You know you can copy commenters' wiki markup by clicking the pencil, right?
  • May 6, 2013
    DracMonster
    At first glance I thought this was A Taste Of Power till I read it properly. Laconic may need some clarification.
  • May 6, 2013
    hyphz
    Could possibly be folded in as the non-interactive version of A Taste Of Power, then?
  • May 7, 2013
    Trueman001
    @StarSword: If there are a lot of replies to fold into the examples, probably an easier way is to open the "edit the YKTTW" in a new tab (e.g. right-click the link in a Windows browser), then click the "Show All Markup" button.

  • May 8, 2013
    Arivne
    Re-added Namespaces and italization to example work names, sorted examples by media, fixed Example Indentation problem.

    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons 1st/2nd Edition supplement Greyhawk Adventures. "Appendix 1: Zero-Level Characters" allowed players to role play the early activities of their PCs before they achieved 1st level. This involved trying to use various class skills before actually joining that class. If a PC using a skill rolled an Insight or Great Insight success on the Learning Table, they would be able to use the skill as if they were 12th level instead of zero level, but would then lose the ability to do so. They would have to learn the skill normally if they wanted to retain it, but they wouldn't be able to use it at 12th level of ability again after reaching 1st level.

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