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Chekhov's Skill

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"As we've learned from all films ever made, whenever you have a special skill, it will eventually save your life, regardless of how impossibly stupid it is."

Training in any kind of skill, ability, or knowledge that will likely later come in handy. Much like Chekhov's Gun, Chekhov's Skill covers instances where a character takes time in-story to become proficient at something.

If the hero takes time to teach his sweetie a self-defense Judo throw during the beginning, expect this Damsel in Distress to throw the Mook holding her into a Shark Pool during the climax.


This is a counterpoint to Suddenly Always Knew That, as proficiencies are gained and learned rather than mentioned or pulled out of thin air. Taken to extremes, Chekhov's Skill can be used to justify Implausible Fencing Powers or turn the Farm Boy into a gun toting badass. In frustrating cases, it might go the way of Forgotten Phlebotinum and never see use again. Used well, it can lead to some satisfying heroics from unexpected places.

Chekhov's Skill can also be used as a catalyst for other plot elements by having one character teach another, and getting some good Character Development out of it as well. Or even drive a plot as the seeker looks for a mentor to teach them Chekhov's Skill. If the skill is too complicated to be perfected so quickly, see Instant Expert.

If it is not a skill taught or otherwise demonstrated to the individual in question, then it is a Chekhov's Hobby. In the hobby, the skill is mentioned through dialogue and never takes up more plot than that. In the skill, even if the character hasn't perfected the Dangerous Forbidden Technique it still shows them training for it.


If the character is shown training for a skill but repeatedly fails at it until everything depends on them getting it right, that's Crisis Makes Perfect. If they've been compulsively using their ability since they got it, it's New Ability Addiction.

See Workplace-Acquired Abilities when a character has developed necessary skills in his professional career. See also Wax On, Wax Off, Crazy-Prepared, Chekhov's Classroom. May overlap with Plot Tailored to the Party, but not necessarily. If the skill was initially perceived as useless, it could also fall into Heart Is an Awesome Power.


Example subpages:

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    Mythology and Religion 
  • Book of Exodus: Both used and averted with Moses and the burning bush. God teaches Moses how to turn his staff into a serpent, and how to turn the skin of his hand leprous (as well as cure it), both in order to demonstrate that he is a prophet of the Lord. He performs the former, but the latter never shows up again.

  • In the ReincarNathan episode "Swallow", when Nathan is reincarnated as a swallow and believes (wrongly) that he's doing a great job of parenting a fledgeling because he's doing "fun" things, he compares himself to his own father, who forced him to go to Museums of Boredom like the Heimlich Manuveure Museum. When the fledgeling gets swallowed whole by a snake, he suddenly realises that he knows what to do about that.

  • The Mrs. Hawking play series: In part II: Vivat Regina, Nathaniel mentions that his "military experience" was balancing the company's books in Newcastle. Later, when Team Hawking comes across a logbook, he's able to use his skill in reading that kind of ledger to notice some suspicious entries (namely, the comings and goings of spies, listed as "pineapples" in the records), thus giving Mrs. Hawking and Mary a way to trap the villain.

    Theme Parks 
  • In Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios, Evac being naturally designed to escort things from place to place winds up becoming very useful, for it's the only hope for getting the AllSpark shard to safety.

    Real Life 
  • American astronautics:
    • During the Gemini XII mission, the rendezvous radar, which was to have guided the spacecraft to docking with the Agena target vehicle, failed. Fortunately, co-pilot Buzz Aldrin had specialized on space rendezvous during his doctoral studies at MIT (he was sometimes known as Dr. Rendezvous). He "simply" pulled out a sextant and a set of charts he had developed, and proceeded to feed correct target distance measurements into the computer.
    • Astronaut Jim Lovell, during his flight on Apollo 8, remarked that he could use a portion of the Earth as a reference point to control his spacecraft's altitude should his guidance computer fail. During his Apollo 13 flight, an explosion forced the crew to shut down their guidance computers to conserve power. When he had to fire his engine to correct his craft's trajectory, he used the very same technique he came up with a year and a half earlier.
    • When Apollo 12 was struck by lightning during launch, taking out the fuel cells, the command module instrumentation, and the telemetry feed which ground control relied on, it looked like they were going to have to abort because no one knew how to fix the telemetry (which was fundamental to dealing with the other problems). No one except EECOM John Aaron, who had happened to have seen the same error during a test a year earlier and tracked it down in his spare time, and knew the simple but incredibly obscure procedure that would restore telemetry.
  • Steve Jobs took a course in calligraphy at college. It later proved invaluable in Apple pioneering the Graphical User interface. Now think of how far CGI has gone ahead since that development. Specifically, Jobs insisted on making the fonts on the Macintosh completely WYSIWYG adjustable. This earned the new machine an instant place in the heart of the publishing industry and proved that GUIs were more than just window dressing.
  • Air Canada Flight 143, known as the "Gimli Glider," ran out of fuel mid-flight due to to a combination of technical failures and ground crews making errors converting from imperial to metric units when refueling the plane. The loss of both engines effectively turned the Boeing 767 into a giant glider. The captain, Bob Pearson, happened to be an experienced glider pilot. He managed to land the plane safely at Gimli, an abandoned air force base turned into a drag strip, using some gliding maneuvers that hadn't been used with airliners.
  • After the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, which involved a total loss of hydraulic systems, a United Airlines pilot and instructor named Dennis Fitch spent some time considering how a pilot might control a plane if such an incident were to happen again (mostly involving varied engine thrust), specifically focusing on the DC-10 because it was the aircraft he was most familiar with. Four years later, Fitch was flying as a passenger on a flight from Denver to Chicago when that plane, a DC-10, suffered a total hydraulic loss as a result of an explosive engine failure. Fitch quickly offered his assistance to the pilots, and the four of them working together were able to bring the plane down in a semi-controlled crash on the runway, saving the lives of 184 people (a 65% survival rate), which is generally agreed to have been little short of a miracle.


Video Example(s):


SpongeBob's Dancing

SpongeBob and Patrick's dance moves at the beginning happen to come in handy when trying to get Squidward's clarinet reed out of his throat.

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