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Gave Up Too Soon

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"Whatever he says, let his inner resolution be not to bear whatever comes to him, but to bear it 'for a reasonable period' — and let the reasonable period be shorter than the trial is likely to last. It need not be much shorter; in attacks on patience, chastity, and fortitude, the fun is to make the man yield just when (had he but known it) relief was almost in sight."
Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters, Letter 30

A situation in which the characters are using the right method, at the right location, for the right motivations. Success is just around the corner... but the characters tire of what they're doing and either depart or change their tactics. Had they only persisted, they would have succeeded. Examples include: characters waiting for somebody or something that arrives seconds after they give up waiting and depart; characters who dig in the right spot for a treasure but give up before digging deep enough; or, more grimly, characters who attempt a Taking You with Me or Last Stand and are wiped out just before help arrives. Also frequently occurs when two characters are searching for each other. (In Real Life, the lost are often advised to stay in one place to avoid this trope.) Although it occurs in all genres, Gave Up Too Soon is most prominent in farce and horror.

Basically, this trope is a deconstruction of Know When to Fold 'Em and a subversion of Sunk Cost Fallacy, but it often comes off as a particularly cruel form of Finagle's Law; as if the universe itself makes sure you can never reach your goal unless you decide to give up, in which case it will always be within reach.

Very often a case of Dramatic Irony, as the viewers see that the characters will succeed if they keep on going for just a bit longer, making them want to yell "you're almost there!" at their screen or book. May involve The Reveal, exclusively to the audience, that whatever the characters failed to achieve was Real After All.

Contrast You Were Trying Too Hard, Just in Time. Compare Never Recycle Your Schemes, where the bad guy comes oh-so-close but never tries the tactic again despite near-success.


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Other Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • In one Dish Network commercial, a woman grew tired of waiting for the cable guy and decided to take a shower. While she was bathing, the cable guy rang her doorbell and she immediately rushed to answer the door, only to find a "Sorry we missed you" note.
  • In a Capital One commercial, a princess encounters a frog prince and kisses him, but he keeps transforming into other animals instead. By the time the prince is turned into a centaur, the princess gives up and leaves, but he yells out that she was only one kiss away.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dirty Pair Flash: Iris (a.k.a. Flare) has a grudge against the 3WA because they didn't provide backup when she called for help, which caused Molly to get killed. Or so she thought — actually, they could and would have provided backup if she hadn't thrown away her communicator device, assuming that they weren't going to.
  • Doraemon: Nobita's Dorabian Nights has Doraemon and friends crossing a Thirsty Desert after barely surviving a shipwreck (with Doraemon's Fourth Dimensional Pocket stolen). At one point, Suneo exclaims he saw an oasis, prompting everyone to quickly run ahead for a mile before finding nothing, at which point it's revealed Suneo had seen a mirage. Minutes later after trudging through the desert, Suneo sees another oasis... and decides to ignore it, thinking it's another mirage. This second oasis is actually the real deal.
  • Fairy Tail: When Ultear Milkovich was sick, her mother Ur took her to a facility for treatment. Instead, the people performed torturous experiments on her and lied to Ur that she had died. Eventually, Ultear managed to escape and ran home, only to see Ur playing with her students Lyon Vastia and Gray Fullbuster. Instead of letting them see her, Ultear, who didn't know that her tormentors lied about her death, automatically assumes that Ur doesn't care about her and had already replaced her. She angrily runs away while plotting revenge against her mother. Shortly after she leaves, Ur starts talking about her daughter, whom she misses dearly and loves with all of her heart.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • In Pokémon: The Original Series, James spends a ludicrous amount of money on a common Magikarp from a conman, and desperately tries to find a use for it after being told it's worthless to sell. After Magikarp proves to a terrible swimmer (which nearly killed Team Rocket) and inedible, James gets so furious by its uselessness that he literally kicks it off his team. But right after he does that, the released Magikarp suddenly evolves into Gyarados, a powerful Pokémon that is feared by sailors and trainers alike. Amazed by its potential power, James tries to get Gyarados back on his team, but ultimately couldn't because the Atrocious Pokémon is seething to get revenge on its former master.
    • In Pokémon the Series: XY, after losing Squishy (Z1), Team Flare put a tail on Ash and his friends, believing that they may make contact with it again after it left their group. When it looks like the trainers don't know where Z1 is, Team Flare pull their men back. It's then at the end of the episode that Ash and company are reunited with Squishy, with Team Flare unaware.
    • In episode 57 of Pokémon Journeys: The Series, Ash and Goh spend a day trying to find new Pokémon during a snowstorm, to no avail. Despite Goh's insistence on continuing, Ash convinces him to leave to go eat ramen. A herd of Lapras emerges from the river they were looking at, just as they leave.
  • Princess Sarah: Like in the original book and practically every other known adaptation, Miss Minchin mistreats her former star pupil Sara and forces her to become a servant because she doesn't expect the girl to ever become rich again. In this adaptation, Solicitor Barrow also becomes an example because he's portrayed as one of the people who invested in his client's diamond mines and is glad because he got out of the investment after said client died without finding any diamonds. Mr. Carrisford later finds diamonds there.
  • In Ranma ˝ The Movie 1: Big Trouble In Nekonron, China, the Chinese girl Lychee has been waiting all her life for the legendary prince that will come seeking the legendary scroll she possesses, presumably to make its owner his bride. She waited so long, devoting so much of her life to the fantasy, she basically lost her entire childhood. When she finally gets fed up with waiting and hunts down the man responsible (Happosai) for spreading such an awful lie to her family (and giving them the scroll), she hurls her scroll at him in rage... only to have it picked up by Akane two seconds before Prince Kirin, surprise surprise, shows up. And kidnaps her, thinking she's his destined girl. From then on, Ranma and Co. (plus Lychee) have to get her back. The end of the movie implies that Prince Kirin and Lychee may be able to give one another a chance, however.
  • In School-Live!, if Miki's friend Kei had persisted and stuck with Miki a little bit longer, she might have been rescued by the School Life club when they went into the mall and wouldn't have become a zombie, as strongly implied in chapter 30.

    Comedy 
  • Victor Borge once made a joke that his uncle tried to invent a soft drink called 4-Up, then 5-Up, then 6-Up, before dying brokenheartedly from failure, unaware of how he close he had been to success.

    Comic Books 
  • One Archie Comics story has Archie accompany Reggie to the meeting place of the latter's blind date. Seeing a frumpy, awkward woman at the spot, Reggie bails, but Archie, feeling sorry for "Robin", decides to take Reggie's place. It turns out the awkward woman isn't Robin, just waiting for the bus. Then the real Robin arrives, apologizing for being late.
  • The Batman Adventures: In Gotham Adventures #9, Batman and Batgirl come to arrest Sensei for his role in the murder of Boston Brand. Tracking him down to the League of Assassins headquarters in Tibet, they battle with him. The battle is stopped by Ra's al Ghul, who orders Sensei not to kill them. When Batman refuses to leave without the Sensei, Ra's orders the Sensei to go with Batman. Neither wishing to get in the way of Ra's plans nor to spend the rest of his days in prison, the Sensei chooses a third option and quietly walks out one of the windows of his mountain hideaway, falling to his death. Ra's reveals that while he was going to let Batman and Batgirl take him, he was not going to let them keep him.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. NNY believes that the only reason he can't go through the mirror to a world where everything is better is that he didn't stare at it long enough before touching it. Then he kills someone to take his mind off the issue.
  • Grant Morrison turns away right before Foxy, his childhood imaginary friend, signals him back from the hills at the end of Animal Man.
  • Wally West, The Flash, got in a fight with a super-villain in a department store that resulted in a fire and did a quick run-through to get any innocents out. He quit looking too soon, and a woman got horribly burned. She sued, and although Wally was acquitted of any responsibility, he blamed himself for his failure and tried to become even faster so he could be everywhere at once.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 5: During Barbara's determined search for the Amazons despite being told again and again that they were myths that would never be found she actually came within a hair's breath of Themyscira, setting foot on the island itself. The only reason she didn't go further was because the Olympians' protection over it prevented her from seeing it.

    Comic Strips 
  • Occurs in one week-long Doonesbury story arc. In a pastiche of Waiting for Godot, Mike and Zonker wait for Mario Cuomo to announce his bid for the presidency. The two finally give up out of frustration, and a beat later, Cuomo arrives in the last panel.
  • In one arc of Calvin and Hobbes, the family goes on a camping trip, only for it to rain the whole time. Finally, Calvin's father has enough and cuts their trip short. The moment they start packing, the rain stops and Calvin is asking Hobbes what the words his dad was yelling meant.
  • Inverted in a The Far Side cartoon where a trio of prisoners digging a tunnel under the ocean "feel the first drop of rain".
  • Garfield:
    • Similar to the Calvin and Hobbes example, Jon, Garfield, and Odie went on a camping trip, only for it to rain most of the time. Eventually, Jon figures the rain will never stop and decides to pack it in and go home. The moment he closes the car's trunk, the sun starts shining.
    • In a week-long strip set a week before Christmas, Garfield tries to find a present that Jon has hidden. Eventually, he gives up, leaning against the wall as he says so, not knowing that he's actually leaning against a very, very big gift package with a tag that says "To Garfield" on it.

    Fan Works 
  • The Puella Magi Madoka Magica fanfic Colors Fading, a Soulmate AU Fic, has Homura and Madoka as soulmates with every timeline having minute changes. However in the twenty-eighth timeline, Homura finds the timeline to have her have not just Madoka as a soulmate, but also Sayaka, Mami, and Kyoko. Homura quickly nopes out of this timeline, though a spin off story Timeline Twenty-Eight explores this timeline a bit more, which reveals it would have actually been a pretty ideal timeline for Homura to have stayed in. With Mami and Kyoko both present at the start and the bonds between all five of them already present, they would have all been more stable, and Mami had already learned several truths that would normally have left her incredibly unstable and worked through them. Instead Homura reflexively freaked out and fled the timeline, and we see her endure many more and suffer as a consequence.
  • It's Always Spooky Month: In chapter 15, after spending most of the day at the lake in Zardy's cornmaze, Tankman and Steve take Skid and Pump home despite the former's protests due to it getting late. Had they waited until after the sun set, they would have witnessed Lila getting thrown out of the lake. Thankfully, Zardy was watching the whole thing and guides Lila to Monster's house, allowing her to reunite with Skid.

    Literature 
  • The book Gold and Silver, Silver and Gold, about buried treasure, mentions that treasure hunters should be persistent because "You could dig four feet down, find nothing, and give up when the treasure is buried five feet down."
  • Lighthearted example where it's Zigzagged (the character gives up too soon, but succeeds by doing so) in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry has to get into Dumbledore's office, but he doesn't know the password. He does know that the password is always some type of candy, so he rattles off the names of every popular brand he can think of, like "Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans" (then remembers that Dumbledore doesn't like those, so that's clearly not right), "Chocolate Frog", and "Sugar Quill", before throwing up his arms in desperation and shouting, "Cockroach Cluster!". And that is the password, which causes the bemused Harry to say "Cockroach Cluster? I was only joking …"
  • A Little Princess: Had Miss Minchin not given up on the hopes the late Ralph Crewe's investment would generate profits, she wouldn't have mistreated his daughter to the point the girl would gladly leave her boarding school as soon as she had a place to go.
  • Vin's thieving crew at the start of Mistborn teams up with another crew to rob a boat full of Ministry acolytes, knowing it secretly holds Ministry funds. Vin's crewleader betrays the other crew by claiming the down payment early, which would bring suspicion down on the other crew. Two books later, it turns out that the hidden Ministry funds in turn hid atium, a metal so valuable that a single bead is worth more than the down payment. If thieving crews weren't in the habit of backstabbing each other, they would have been the richest people in the Empire.
  • In Neverwhere, Door agreed to meet up with the Marquis at the floating market. They could have touched him, had they known where he was. Dead. By the time he recovered, they had already left.
  • The Reversal: After the defense's last strategy fails, Jason is so certain he'll be convicted he decides to flee and ends up dying without learning that one of the jurors would vote for his acquittal, thus forcing a mistrial. Prosecutors Mickey and Margareth believe that the District Attorney would rather let him go than attempt a third trial.

    Manhua 

    Music 
  • The song "Zangra" by Jacques Brel is about an officer stationed in a frontier fort who looks forward to the enemy attacking so he can become a hero. But years pass and the enemy doesn't come. Finally, he retires, and that's when the enemy shows up.
  • The song "Stan" by Eminem focuses on the relationship between the artist and an obsessive fan who, furious at his idol for not writing back, kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend. In the final verse of the song, Slim Shady does write a reply encouraging Stan to seek professional help so as not to end up like a suicide victim he heard about on the news and then realizes Stan, himself, was the victim.
  • Benny Hill's "What a World" ends with the lone survivor of humanity jumping off the Empire State Building After the End due to loneliness. On his way down, he hears a telephone ringing inside the building.
  • One interpretation of the ending of Rush's 2112: the protagonist, who lives in a totalitarian dystopia, has a vision telling him that the Elder Race will return to liberate the people from their oppressors. This gives him hope to keep on going, waiting for this triumphant return, but he eventually becomes discouraged and is Driven to Suicide... immediately before the Elder Race does come back.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the backstory of Warhammer, Malekith, soon to be the Witch King, considers it his birthright to be Phoenix King, ruler of all the High Elves of Ulthuan. He plots his way to the throne, but the last step is to endure the Sacred Flame. Malekith steps into the flame, confident of his right. He is however maimed and burnt by the flame, just like his father Aenarion was. Unlike his father, however, he collapses and gives up. Thousands of years later, and after leading his own faction, the Dark Elves, and conspiring to take Ulthuan by force, he learns in a particularly eyeroll worthy Retcon during the End Times, just before the end of the world, that he was the Chosen of the gods and all his injuries would have been healed had he lasted but a moment longer, just as Aenarion's had been.

    Theatre 
  • Eurydice uses this trope sequentially and tragically in its ending. Eurydice's father assumes she went back to be with Orpheus and immerses himself completely in the Lethe, only for her to return later. Then, assuming Orpheus will find someone else and be happy, Eurydice immerses herself in the river before being forced to marry Hades. Immediately after, Orpheus dies and arrives in the Underworld himself, unable to recognize Eurydice or read what she wrote.
  • This trope would sum up the ending to Romeo and Juliet quite well. Specifically, Romeo thinks that Juliet is really dead and kills himself shortly before she wakes up from the effects of the potion used to fake her death. Finding him dead, she then follows suit.

    Video Games 
  • In Dark Souls 2, one of the sidequests has you meet with a swordswoman called Lucatiel, who, like you, suffers from the Undead Curse that is ravaging the entire setting, and has traveled to Drangleic to both find a cure as well as her brother Aslatiel, who made this journey a while earlier. As you meet her, she grows increasingly more hollow and panicked, until you find her in a small shack in front of Aldia's manor, giving you her armor while begging you not to forget her as she loses her last bit of hope. Step into the manor, however, and you are almost immediately invaded by Darkwraith Aslatiel.
  • Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny: The whole reason the God of Destruction exists is because Misual gave up too soon. He spent countless times Super Reincarnating to save his beloved Releiza and kept failing, and eventually believed Super Reincarnation can't change destiny and decided to take out his anger at fate by creating Gods of Destruction to destroy the universe. Zed proved him wrong by succeeding in saving Releiza, and if his incredible persistence is anything to go by, Misual could've eventually saved her if he had just kept trying until he succeeded.
  • Manafinder: In the ending where Lambda joins Illia, she does so out of despair over the Settlement's unsustainable situation. However, if the player rejects Illia instead, they'll learn the next day that the Heavensreach could give the Settlement a means of either conquering the Tuonela or conquering Manahill, which would solve their manastone shortage.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: A pair of krogan scouts on Elaaden can be found searching for the rumoured source of water on the moon, or more accurately having just given up searching when Ryder finds them. They're actually sitting right on top of the source's front door.
  • In the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series, Sayaka is in love with Kyousuke but never tells him and, thanks to both that and her Break the Cutie process, she becomes a witch and dies. The PSP game has a path where, had she actually given him a Love Confession and willingly told him that she was a Magical Girl, he would've accepted her feelings and even compose a song inspired on her.
  • Wizard101: One of the tutorials involves freeing some pets who were locked up by a villain. Your NPC ally tries to brute force the code on the padlock: he tries "000001", then "000002", then gives up. You then use your own pet to ask the imprisoned animals if they saw the padlock's code. They did, and it's "000003".

    Webcomics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • During the climax of the Azure City war, Miko destroyed the Azure City Gate, believing she was fulfilling the will of the 12 gods. The only problem with that was it was unnecessary as the ghost of Soon Kim was winning against Xykon and Redcloak. Even worse, it was because of her actions that the two were able to get away before Soon could finish them off.
    • When the Order is forcibly split into two groups, the wizard Vaarsuvius searches with increasing desperation for a way to contact the other half of the party. Eventually tiring of the unproductive distractions they faced, Vaarsuvius leaves; once he/she gains the power to reunite the party, he/she finds that the others have already gotten together in his/her absence.
    • The Order spends a day searching the desert for leads on one of the Gates or its guardian, finds nothing and leaves. Moments later, a scrying sensor appears. Subverted when it's revealed that it was the villains, not the sorcerer they hoped to find, spying on them.
    • When Nale and his companions are hunting a dungeon for Girard's Gate, they leave in frustration upon finding a stone block with a taunting message in its place. Roy and Haley, being more familiar with Girard's brand of paranoia, shatter the stone to find the Gate hidden inside.
  • In Sandra and Woo Sandra, Cloud and Larisa are searching an abandoned factory for a hidden treasure but give up after the only thing they find is a bag full of dirt and bugs. However after they give up and leave Cloud's mother Ye Thuza sneaks in and figures out that the actual treasure was hidden underneath the hiding spot of the bag that they found.

    Web Video 
  • CaptainSparklez was doing a random loot drops stream of Minecraft. He found Ender Pearls and End City very quickly, so he just needed Blaze Rods. After the stream got to be about 2 hours long, he was getting tired. He stopped in a Mega Taiga biome and he had found a way to summon the Wither. He therefore decided to fight the Wither and end the stream and pick up the run in a second stream. About 5 minutes into his second stream on the same world (basically just after his intro), he mined some Coarse Dirt which was about 20 blocks away from where he ended previously and got Blaze Rods. He was so upset that he could've finished in a single stream.

    Real Life 
  • François Vatel (a man incorrectly credited with the invention of whipped cream) was The Jeeves for France's Prince Louis II de Bourbon. One fateful day in April 1671, he was tasked with organizing a 2000-person banquet in honor of King Louis XIV. After a series of mishaps, he was Driven to Suicide after being told that the seafood delivery would be late, and his body was discovered when someone came to tell him it had arrived. His death inspired the idiom "died for want of lobster sauce".
  • The Burke and Wills expedition of Australia is a sad example of this. They and their team were to travel from the southern to northern coast of Australia and back. They had left part of the team at a halfway point and took two extra teammates with them to the coast. After waiting for several weeks, the other team gave up waiting and left only nine hours before Burke and Wills returned, which eventually led to their deaths.
  • The prospector who first discovered what would turn out to be the Comstock mine sold the rights to Comstock. Once somebody thought to test the tailings for silver content, the Comstock mine was discovered to be the single largest silver-ore deposit in the U.S.
  • A prospector during the gold rush found a mine, and immediately began working with a pickaxe and dynamite, getting deeper and deeper into the mine each day. However, as he failed with each excursion to find even a trace of gold, at last the prospector threw down his tools and left the mine, never to return. Many years later, a modern company with upgraded digging technology found the mine and immediately began to dig... and they found a rich gold vein six inches from the point where the original prospector had stopped.
  • Neverminding the extent to which Benedict Arnold's problems were his own fault, had he put up with them a bit longer, he could have taken Washington's offer for him to command a wing of his army in battle. Sadly, he had gone too far by this point and requested West Point.
  • Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways, as well as the Catalina Channel, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bosporus Strait, and the Dardanelles. During her first attempt at the Catalina she was flanked by her mother and coach in boats prepared to pull her out in an emergency, and a thick fog rolled in preventing her from seeing the shoreline. She grew tired and gave up, only realizing once she got into the boat that they only had a mile left to go. She succeeded in her second attempt two months later, in spite of the same fog reappearing.
  • This was long argued to be the main reason why Russia lost the Russo-Japanese War. By the end of the war Japan was winning militarily, but its economy was stretched to the breaking point, and their mobilization resources were completely depleted, as they had started drafting kids and geezers into the army, with the predictable outcome for troops quality and morale. Some analysts say that had Russia pushed just for a couple of months more, even in the wake of the horrific losses like Tsushima and Mukden, Japan would've sued for peace. On the other hand the Tsar's government had really lousy intelligence (as well as unrest on the home front that needed attention) and didn't know that, so they decided to cut their losses and sued first.
  • When Germany was divided into East and West after World War II, Bonn became the "temporary" capital of the western half. By the mid-1980s, the West German government finally accepted that the "temporary" solution was going to be permanent, and so commissioned the construction of a proper government sector. Then in 1989, just as work on the government quarter was nearing completion, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified a year later, with Berlin being reestablished as the national capital in 1991. To this day, many federal ministries have their offices in Bonn instead of Berlin, including the Ministry of Defense.
  • The Reddit sub "r/IsTodayFridayThe13th" consists entirely of two running jokes. First, on every day that isn't Friday the 13th, a post is made saying "No". Then, every Thursday 12th, users post to announce that they are giving up and quitting the sub because it is never going to be Friday the 13th.

 
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Six Thick Thistle Sticks

In the Cliff Hanger segment "Cliff Hanger and Trixie the Tricky Pixie", Cliff Hanger asks the titular pixie to get him off the cliff, but only if he says a tricky tongue twister correctly. Cliff took more than five hours to try to say it correctly, but when he finally does, Trixie just left for a picnic in Dixie and gave up before he said it right causing him to still hang on the cliff.

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