!What makes TheWoobie work

There are a variety of factors that lead to a character we consider TheWoobie.

!!Trope side
* '''Frequent or Continuous Suffering:''' It's clear that the suffering the character goes through should be one of these, the former more commonly for serial and the latter more commonly for standalone works. Characters who are one-shot or infrequent recurring characters in serial works would more likely follow the "continuous" rule. Basically, frequency is when you add up all the events or even all the ''major'' bad events, and they add up to something huge, while continuity is where the suffering is the status quo. It is certainly possible to have both at once. Of course, this alone is not very different from a regular ButtMonkey.

* '''External Circumstances:''' A character who [[LaserGuidedKarma suffers as a result of his own actions]] is not a Woobie. So, for example, if a character has to live with the consequences of doing something bad (such as [[YourCheatingHeart cheating]]) or stupid, provided he was warned, (such as [[LeeroyJenkins charging right into a dangerous battle]]), he is not a Woobie.
** '''Important Note:''' Being too afraid, weak, or self-defeating to prevent someone from hurting you is ''different'' from causing your own problems. Not only are all of these flaws sympathetic enough that they ''add'' to Woobie status rather than subtracting from it, but the flaws themselves may have been caused by the same or other attackers in the first place indirectly, especially if they are highly influential like AbusiveParents.

* '''Powerlessness:''' The best Woobies tend to be characters without any power, such as [[AllOfTheOtherReindeer someone discriminated against by everyone else]], children in [[AbusiveParents abusive families]], underlings always on the edge of losing their job, or characters who [[ButtMonkey always fall victim]] [[TheChewToy to bad luck no]] [[CosmicPlaything matter what they do]]. Too much power (such as being a strong matriarch, or able to outwit authority figures) diminishes the sympathy since the audience is sure they can take care of themselves. Sympathetic flaws like weakness (physical or emotional), self-defeating behavior, and proneness to emotions such as sadness and anxiety over ones like excitement and anger will not usually make the status on their own, but can be hugely beneficial in pushing a questionable character over the line (think of them like condiments; they don't themselves make a meal, but they can add flavor to one). A character who is extremely virtuous--kind, honest, loyal, etc.--who also suffers heavily is also a more likely Woobie than one who isn't.

* For {{Jerkass Woobie}}s: '''The "Just Deserts" Test:''' A character who is actively cruel to others cannot be a regular Woobie by default. What differentiates a JerkassWoobie from a regular {{Jerkass}} is how well their suffering justifies their actions or vice versa. This is often a matter of opinion, especially when the DesignatedMonkey reaction is involved. If the suffering does not justify the actions ("[[DisproportionateRetribution Just because X happened to you doesn't mean you can do Y]]!") or the actions justify the suffering ("[[LaserGuidedKarma You deserve to have X happen to you because you did Y]]!"), the character in question is probably not a JerkassWoobie. On the other hand, if the actions do not justify the suffering ("[[EveryoneHasStandards He may have done Y, but don't you think X happening to him is a little harsh]]?") or the suffering justifies the actions ("[[FreudianExcuse X happened to him, and he was so unhappy about it that he started doing Y]]."), he probably is.

!!AudienceReaction side

What seems a little tricky about this is the idea that the fandom feels sorry for the character. Now, unless the show is a SugarBowl (or, for a particularly unlucky Woobie, a SugarBowl except for [[GrumpyBear this one guy's bad life]]), and sometimes even then, the audience will feel sorry for most if not all of the characters at one point or another. People have specified feeling sorry for the resident {{Jerkass}} in the episode they were watching ''only''. Clearly, this alone is not enough to make the character a Woobie. So what is the difference?

The answer lies mainly in whether or not the suffering and/or the toll it takes is tough to undo or even outright unfixable.

Consider the following scenario: Alice [[TrueCompanions has lots of great friends]], while Bob [[IJustWantToHaveFriends has never had any]] [[FriendlessBackground despite trying to make them for years]]. Then, one day, Alice [[FeudEpisode loses all her friends due to a misunderstanding]]. Seeing an opportunity, Bob tries to befriend Alice's friends himself, but they are put off by his [[NoSocialSkills poor social skills]] and [[LonersAreFreaks long history of having no friends]]. The end result is that while Alice eventually [[BreakUpMakeUpScenario reconciles with her friends at the end of the episode]], Bob still doesn't get any friends of his own.

Now, when the audience is watching Alice, they would likely say something to the effect of "I felt bad for Alice when..." When the topic turns to Bob, the audience members would likely say something closer to "I feel sorry for Bob because..."

The main difference between these two is the ''conditionality'' of the sympathy, exemplified in the different tenses for "feel". For Alice, the tense is past, meaning the sympathy is conditional--it's fleeting, temporal, in the moment; their sympathy for her lasts only as long as her situation is negative, and it ends when she returns to the more positive status quo. Conversely, for Bob, the tense is present, meaning ongoing and unconditional--consistent, steadfast, forever; his situation was negative from the get-go and remains that way throughout the story thanks to both [[NoSocialSkills a character flaw that can't be easily fixed]] and [[LonersAreFreaks a history that can't be changed at all]], thus ensuring the audience continues to feel for him.

Another important factor is whether it's personalized. Suppose your show takes place during a [[WarIsHell great war]] and plenty of hardships are had by everyone. They can't ''all'' be Woobies, but what about the one who went through a succession of {{abusive parent}}s and then nearly died due to [[AllOfTheOtherReindeer ostracism]]? This is heavy suffering even for the universe (think CrapsackOnlyByComparison, but with characters instead of worlds), and so the character stands out even in one of the bleaker worlds. This can also be apparent in a CrapsackWorld wherein only a limited number of characters are sympathetic.

!Uses for a Woobie

One potential use for a Woobie is making other characters look evil. Villains who attack the hero are just trying to win their fight. Villains who attack The Woobie are cowards at best, and bullying monsters at worst. Oh, and if the character is the primary reason another is The Woobie? They'll most likely be [[TheScrappy hated]], [[LoveToHate perhaps in a good way]], [[IntendedAudienceReaction though this is often the intended response]].

Another is to provide a tragic contrast; kind of a [[InvertedTrope weird opposite]] of comic relief. And of course, sometimes they're used just to show [[CrapsackWorld how messed up the world is as a whole]]. Some are intended to be in-universe Woobies, particularly {{Littlest Cancer Patient}}s like [[Literature/AChristmasCarol Tiny Tim]] (who, in a surprisingly effective way, had a ''curable'' illness), in order to tug at the heartstrings of other characters as well as the audience. Unfortunately, sometimes, this will lead to the character becoming a SympatheticSue, or just to DarknessInducedAudienceApathy.

Other times, the Woobie isn't even intended. These cases usually come from {{Designated Monkey}}s, but can also come from not-even-ostensibly-deserving {{Chew Toy}}s the audience [[DudeNotFunny just doesn't find funny]].

!Avoiding DarknessInducedAudienceApathy

Generally speaking, piling loads of crap onto the character will turn him into TheWoobie, particularly if he has traits such as kindness, a large number of sympathetic flaws, and powerlessness. But at some point, there's just too much. So how do we find that balance of creating a good Woobie without also getting DarknessInducedAudienceApathy and SympatheticSue accusations?

The most important rule is ShowDontTell. It's practically RuleNumberOne of writing in general, but in the specific case of the Woobie, it accomplishes a few things: Since we see bad things happen, we understand they're plausible for the universe. Another thing that's helpful is seeing how much it hurts. Another piece of advice is to use tragic backstory sparingly. Tragic backstory is great for making a character TheWoobie quickly, but it has to have some lasting effects; (unfixable suffering, remember?) otherwise, it comes across as the author's refusal to put the character through hell, while [[InformedAttribute insisting that he has done so anyway]]. Sometimes tragic backstory can be used to make a character who would have been a Woobie regardless even more of a Woobie. For instance, if your character is saying that today is the best day he's ever had, and even ''that'' day is punctuated by obviously pitiful moments, that character will almost certainly become a Woobie.

One issue with {{Sympathetic Sue}}s is that they almost always violate ShowDontTell. At some point, whining about backstory gets old. Show some substance in the moment, and you should get the desired result.

Another potentially helpful device to avoid DarknessInducedAudienceApathy is to give your Woobie [[EarnYourHappyEnding a happy ending]] and/or [[ThrowTheDogABone throw him a bone or two along the way]]. This way, despite the audience wanting to comfort this poor, innocent character, they'll be aware the writer is on the character's side, and as a result see the suffering with pure sympathy rather than frustration. This is especially helpful in serial/episodic works that last a long time.