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Break The Cutie / Literature

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  • Animorphs: Tobias. He started off as a sweet kid without too many friends that liked to play with his cat, but over the next few years, he was trapped as a bird, tortured, and nearly killed countless times. Then in the last book, he had to watch his girlfriend die, then became a recluse, only emerging to save the life of one of his old friends.
    • To an extent, all the Animorphs count. The whole series is about how they became less and less cute and innocent and more hardened and ruthless.
  • The God Mara from David Eddings' The Belgariad series. He is the god of the Marags..maybe not a cutie, but a fairly benign god. He wakes up to find out that his entire race of followers have been raped and murdered by a neighboring nation. He proceeds to go into a God Mode version of BSOD. He snaps so hard that all he can do is stand there projecting the most gruesome aspects of what happened to his people... over his entire country...for thousands of years. Any normal human that ventures into his land are driven insane from his grief and horror. He only snaps out of it when it is learned some of his followers were sold into slavery and one of their descendants survives.
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  • Book 5 of The Black Company series features Timmy Lokan, a fun-loving neighborhood kid with a knack for exploration. In order, he has the flesh of his hand corrupted by the touch of an ancient evil (caused when retrieving an Artifact of Doom for his unsavory friends), watching said corruption spread into a genuine disease, having his hand amputated to prevent the corruption from killing him, and finally being beaten to death in an interrogation gone wrong.
  • Ling-Ling in The Candidates (based on a true country) is a sweet, soft-spoken Wide-Eyed Idealist in a World of Jerkass. So of course she's the one who gets bullied into having one of her arms amputated. And then loses the other arm in an accident. And then gets treated like crap by her boss and his toady, who do things like duct-tape her mouth shut because she can't defend herself anymore. And then dies. Really, is it any wonder that she gets progressively less sweet and soft-spoken as the story goes on?
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  • Candide absolutely crushes everyone, especially its protagonist. Voltaire really didn't like the idea of the best of all possible worlds...
  • Chameleon Moon has Finneus, a bubbly, chubby little taxi driver, who unfortunately has the power to cause random explosions whenever he feels any negative emotions. Of course, he's then kidnapped and tortured until something "breaks inside him" and he can't feel any emotions at all- thus halting the explosions.
  • Chaos Walking: Every main character at some point. For Manchee it's a literal Break the Cutie
  • The entire Leckery family, probably the one actually nice family, gets this in The Chronicles of Magravandias, but Khaster and Ellony get this the worst. The latter goes mad in a magical ritual and drowns and the former has a complete Heroic BSoD before running off into enemy territory. The Leckerys have been mourning for them ever since.
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  • David Wingrove's Chung Kuo has Sweet Flute, a young and innocent prostitute at a high-end brothel, who is sold as a concubine before she has time to toughen up. It does not go well for her, especially not after she has a child.
  • This trope starts off right at the beginning of the novel: Clarissa is entirely built on this concept.
  • In Daniel Faust Savannah Cross, a scientist working for the Network, was originally an idealistic young woman who wanted to help the world, but a lifetime of compromise mixed with sexist bosses lead her to becoming the remorseless sociopath she is by the time she's introduced. Vanessa restores her original self at the end of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy.
  • Both William Marsh and Henry Lewis in Darkness Visible, though some might consider Lewis too much of a Jerkass to be counted as a Cutie. Marsh gets stabbed, shot, and loses a finger in a venturing accident. And that's not even mentioning the horrific scars inflicted by his abusive father which criss-cross his entire back. Lewis gets shot, and nearly dies from over-stressing his brain. Twice.
  • In Deerskin, the princess is introduced as thoughtful, curious, and somewhat reserved, but unfortunately cursed with beauty, specifically her dead mother's beauty, which very unfortunately draws an unhealthy amount of attention from her father. The father eventually rapes her, leaving her horribly wounded and pregnant. She runs away into the woods, largely without memory of anything but her name and her dog's. She passes the winter in a tiny hut, subsisting largely on rotten food, until she miscarries and all her repressed memories come back. Fortunately for her, a figure called the Moonwoman heals her wounds and takes her memories away once more, to give her the time to grow strong enough to deal with them once they're returned to her.
  • In Robin Jarvis' Deptford Mice trilogy, Audrey Brown is shown to be a feisty young mouse girl who loves to dream and wear lace and ribbons. Throughout the books, among other things, her father is violently murdered (she refuses to believe he is dead at first, but gradually comes to accept it), she is accused of being a witch and almost hanged (with the only way to save her being marriage to a friend who is not her true love), Piccadilly the boy mouse she is in love with is murdered before she can confess her feelings to him, she is attacked by multiple brainwashed and violent ghosts of those she knew in life (including Piccadilly, but she is able to jog his memory and tell him she loves him; though of course it is too late to do anything about it and she witnesses his crossing over to the other side), she is forced to face the Big Bad Jupiter head-on multiple times, and she is tricked into becoming the (at least initially) unwilling successor of a monarch known as the Starwife. At the end she is left as a weary, melancholy shadow of her former self. She is described as having 'learned many things' and she 'no longer wears lace and ribbons'.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe
    • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe loves doing this to former companions. Susan? Her husband was killed in front of her by the Master. Dodo? Came away borderline-insane with a venereal disease, and that's not the end of it. Victoria? Was possessed by a monster for twenty years and ended up unable to form relationships. Zoe? Wasted her life working for a boss straight out of Dilbert and had nightmares every night for decades. Jo? Ended up as a divorced single mother wondering where it all went wrong (though Sarah Jane Adventures says otherwise). Tegan? Nervous breakdown and amnesia. Peri? Backstory filled with childhood abuse, and her marriage explicitly stated to be loveless.
    • In the Made-for-TV Movie, as he has amnesia, the Eighth Doctor embodies Rousseau Was Right — he's a sweet Ditzy Genius who attempts to help out three people who all screw him over repeatedly. (Seriously, Grace, why would you ever try to have a man with two hearts put on the psych ward?!) In the Big Finish Doctor Who audios, he turns into the Gallifreyan bogeyman. But for those of you who prefer your Eight-trauma in a different medium, the Eighth Doctor Adventures does quite a number on him fairly early on and then cheerfully ramps up the damage with each consecutive arc.

      First he gets arrested trying to locate and rescue his companion Sam, and spends three years in a prison cell, giving him a severe case of claustrophobia and fear of being captured. Most of the people he loves die (and only one of them comes back). He's hurt all the time. He gets infected with a biodata virus that threatens to re-write his entire life history and turn him into an agent of Faction Paradox. After that, a different companion, Compassion gets turned into a TARDIS, prompting them to go on the run from the other Time Lords. He destroys Gallifrey (the EDAs did it first) and loses all memory of who he is, spending one hundred years on Earth, alone, trying to recover from the trauma.
      • In a bit of a subversion, he certainly gets a bit more cynical and stoic, but he maintains most of his original cheerful personality.
  • Fortune from Dragoncharm breaks early on when he sees the Charmed caverns at the beginning and sheds a tear because he thought it would be more impressive. He definitely Takes A Level In Badass however, as the story goes on.
  • Thomas of The Dresden Files. If you thought the mess with Justine was bad wait until you find out what the skinwalker did...
    • What about what the Denarians did to Ivy/The Archive on the island to try and break her. Granted, it wasn't to the scope of the above, but Harry said something along the lines of it being petty, cruel and to a kid, the very picture of horror.
    • Murphy. This is slightly subverted by the fact that Murphy is a badass to begin with, but by Ghost Story she's completely and utterly broken. She's functional, but only just. This is contrasted by Molly. She looks more broken than Murphy, but is actually much more sane.
    • Harry himself. His life is an extended run of this trope. Mother murdered by entropy curse. Father died of a possibly magically caused aneurysm. Adopted father/teacher turns out to be evil and tries to enslave him, then kill him. Harry believed he also killed his beloved girlfriend in this encounter. Second girlfriend half turned into a vampire after following him into a vampire ball. At the same time, Harry keeps quiet about it, but it's plain that the vampires fed on him in the equivalent of gang rape. Next he gets caught between the White Council and the Faerie Courts, and the ex turns up. After that he sees a kind old man sacrifice his own life to protect him, being tortured by fallen angels in the process. Then he nearly sees his best friends daughter beheaded as a warlock, only averted by a Big Damn Heroes moment. He then has to worry about Molly going bad. Then he sees his best friend riddled with bullets while he stands helpless. After that his brother is tortured by a Skinwalker, a sadistic demi-god of evil. Finally, he finds out that his daughter he didn't know about was kidnapped and due to be sacrificed by vampires and he had to sacrifice her mother, the love of his life, to end a war. Then he dies, and it doesn't get any easier.
  • A very disturbing example from Dune: House Harkonnen is the prolonged and violent forced prostitution (and eventual murder) of Gurney Halleck's gentle younger sister Bheth. First she is kidnapped by the Harkonnens for trying to protect her brother. Then they cut out her larynx so she can't do more than scream wordlessly. Next she is subjected to 6 years (starting at age 17) of sadistic rape and torture by a recorded 4620 Harkonnan soldiers. Rabban finally kills her in retribution of Gurney's attempt on his life.
  • In Echo, a short story by J. Nagibin, this happens to Vika, a 10 year old girl and a Blithe Spirit. She is caught Skinny Dipping by a bunch of local bulles, who proceed to thoroughly mock and harass her, including some ambiguous threats, while her friend doesn't have courage to stand up to them, and promptly reveal her secret to them. The ordeal puts her into a Heroic BSoD, with tears, name-calling (though the boy did deserve that), and self-hatred. She is clearly a completely different person afterwards, much sadder, fearful and withdrawn. Her Blithe Spirit properties are completely gone and replaced by mistrust.
    • Subverted in The Film of the Book, where Vika simply doesn't break, instead causing the bullies (her "friend" first and foremost) to be deeply ashamed of themselves. Instead it's her friend who is broken by experience, though he does get a valuable lesson from it.
  • Happens to Sinuhe (arguably multiple times while he reaches new depths of cynicism and pessimism) in The Egyptian, as well as some minor characters to a lesser extent. This is a very common trope in Mika Waltari's works in general.
  • In Enchantress from the Stars, Elana, a Naïve Newcomer from The Federation, overenthusiastically joins a mission to rescue a medieval planet from an interstellar invasion. Then she witnesses her colleague killed by Imperials. Then she is confronted with harsh realities on a world stuck in The Dung Ages, and learns that because of Alien Non-Interference Clause she cannot help this. Just as she is at a new low, she is captured by Imperials, paralysed, and informed by her father that she will be dissected and mind-probed by imperials... unless she commits suicide. At this point, she sees suicide as an easy way out.
  • The entire premise of Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game. The Battle School teachers have a conversation early on, saying that although Ender is a peaceful child, he becomes extremely aggressive when up against his enemies. Since it is his aggression that they need, they decide that they will keep him constantly surrounded by enemies, until he will be forced to become the ruthless military mind that they need - invoking Beware the Nice Ones.
    • Also Bean from the same series.
  • In the backstory of Everworld, the quiet and innocent girl Senda goes through this when her mother leaves her with her biological father's family, all of whom either fear or hate her. This eventually results in her adopting, and ultimately becoming, the persona of the cold, controlling witch Senna Wales. In the meantime, she relieves some of her pent-up frustrations by messing with her half-sister, who is even more of a cutie.
  • In the fourth Fingerprints book, badass tomboy Yana tells a very sad story about how when she wanted to be a ballerina as a kid, but her abusive father crushed her dream. Her backstory only gets sadder when more details are revealed in later books, and is a Freudian Excuse for her villainous Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Meredith Host from the book Friday The 13th: Church Of The Divine Psychopath, who's bubbly, innocent and just seems perpetually happy, actually managing to befriend the surly Final Girl of the book. Things quickly degenerate when she witnesses her parents be butchered in front of her by Jason, with the leader of the mad Jason-worshipping cult they were apart of (thought it was just a regular church group) saying they deserved it; she also winds up dealing with lots of self-hate over being a closet lesbian due to her religious upbringing and near the end winds up almost being raped by one of the aforementioned mad cultists, who had grown steadily more obsessed with her. Though she's saved at the last minute by one the soldiers sent out to track down and kill Jason she still dies quite horribly when Jason randomly shows up seconds later and splits her head open before the soldier can even get a shot at him.
  • This is most of Frostflower's story in Frostflower and Thorn.
  • Morn Hyland of Donaldson's The Gap Cycle begins the series as a barely of-age, beautiful young soldier. She is subjected first to "Gap sickness," then to violent sexual abuse (resulting in being impregnated by her repulsive, insane abuser), then to horrific psychological abuse, while possessing a brain implant with a remote control that could grant unspeakable power over her to any of the many sociopathic people around her if they were to get hold of it. Her son is "force-grown" to a young teenager and implanted with all of her memories (including being raped by his father), resulting in a multiple Mind Screw for him as well.
  • The Girl Next Door : Meg. A scary Ripped from the Headlines version (aka Truth in Television), as it's based on the case of Silvia Likens. Likens was an Indiana teen who was locked in a basement, tortured, and murdered. The book was made into a film. A TV movie starring Elliot Page was also filmed about the case.
  • GONE by Michael Grant: Brittney Donegal. Starts off as a chubby, sweet Christian girl who just wants to help Sam and his friends defend the power plant, going as far as risking her life to keep her friends safe. Then her brother dies at the hands of a coyote, she's tortured by Drake Merwin to death, discovers that her power is immortality (the ability to withstand horrible amounts of pain without dying), is still buried underground for 3 months, escapes from the grave, is manipulated into becoming a slave for the Gaiaphage, is further tortured a couple more times, and at one points begs Sam to kill her. By this point, she is pretty much a ghost of herself, insane, deluded and heartbroken.
    • Also Mary Terrafino, who is a kind hearted, much liked member of the FAYZ who selflessly look after the under 5s of Perdido Beach. Then she relapses on bulimia, has to watch children get eaten right in front of her eyes, is tied to a chair and force fed, starts to become addicted to prozac unaware it is running out, is then tricked into jumping off a cliff, and in FEAR we find out her fate when she escape the FAYZ...It's not very pretty.
    • Arguably Diana Ladris as well, although that's highly debatable, as a lot of people feel that she brought a lot of her hardships on herself.
    • From Fear. Dekka is forced to believe that the bugs are inside her again by Penny, reducing her to a sobbing mess in the dirt:
    Dekka: Have a good laugh. See what you did to me. Make me brave and then break me. Make me strong and leave me weeping in the dirt.
  • The Harry Potter series is an extended, attempted Break the Cutie for Harry, beginning with the deaths of his parents, his upbringing by his abusive aunt and uncle, and his repeated run-ins with Lord Voldemort. It's made worse by the rest of the Wizarding world not being able to decide if he's a hero they should support or if he's just a bratty, coddled attention whore (an attitude which even his best friend shared at one point).
    • Really, he saw his mother murdered when he was only a baby, then was shipped to abusive/neglectful relatives where he had been told that he should have died with his parents, constantly. Then he goes to Hogwarts where his ideal life of Magic is destroyed and he gets so much mental trauma that it's hilarious, getting attacked by a professor physically one of the least worst things to happen to him at that school. Then at 14 and 15 he watched a classmate and his godfather die by what he believes is his own fault. Then finds out that he and Voldie have a kill or be killed thing going on.. And it keeps going on and on until the bright little boy who was awed by magic and wanted acceptance becomes an even more mentally scarred teenager who was destroyed and knew that he actually had to die to save the 'world!'
    • Luna Lovegood as well. She's introduced as this innocent, open-minded fourth year who believes in nargles and wrackspurts, but at the end of that year, she ends up in the battle in the Department of Mysteries. In The Deathly Hallows, she was captured by Death Eaters and kept in a cellar for months. This deleted scene from The Deathly Hallows Part Two:
      Harry: Hogwarts? It's not the place you left, you know. It's not the same.
      Luna: Neither am I.
  • In Heart of Steel, a rapidfire series of traumas in Alistair Mechanus' backstory caused a psychotic break. His mind rebuilt itself with an obsession with Mad Science and no memory of his past.
  • Shannara:
  • In Horus Heresy novel Vulkan Lives, this happens (ironically enough, given the title) to Vulkan, White Sheep of the Primarchs. He used to stand out as being caring and noble, but then he gets into Curze's hands and is tortured to the point of insanity. By the end of it, the only thing remaining of his mind is his knowledge of combat and unstoppable desire to murder Curze.
  • The Hunger Games series
    • Peeta Mellark, the sweet, friendly baker's son. Who is promptly forced into a deadly TV competition, loses a leg, finds out his love interest was playing for the cameras, is forced into ANOTHER deadly competition, and then is captured by the government, who torture him and alter his memories so he'll never be the same person he used to be. Yeeeeeah.
    • The heroine / narrator, Katniss. There's not enough bandwidth in the universe to list what the poor girl goes through, starting with losing her father in a mine accident and finishing physically broken, covered in scars and lacking a spleen, her sister dead, racked with guilt, hating the whole human race including herself, in a near catatonic state and rejecting her one childhood friend, perhaps with good reason, with everything bad happening in between these two points.
    • Poor Annie Cresta. In a previous Games, she mentally snapped when she saw her fellow District 4 tribute get beheaded, then won the whole thing when the arena was flooded and she was the only one who could swim. A few years later, her boyfriend has to participate in another Games, she ends up getting captured by the capitol, then married to the boyfriend, who soon dies. At least at the end she got a son out of the whole ordeal.
    • Effectively, every previous victor, since they all survived a televised fight to the death as teenagers. Special mention goes to Finnick Odair, who became the youngest person to ever win the Games at 14, and since then has been used as a Sex Slave by the Capitol, on the condition that Snow will kill his family if he refuses. He also had to watch his girlfriend (Annie, see above) lose her mind in her own games and later be captured by the Capitol, he then gets to marry her but dies shortly after, never getting to meet his son.
  • In Was..., Geoff Ryman's tragic retelling of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gail starts out as the familiar energetic, curious little girl understimulated by gray Kansas. After being subjected to various kinds of abuse and misfortune, she is barely recognizable at the end of the novel, both physically and emotionally.
  • Journey to Chaos: At the start of the first book, A Mage's Power, Kasil is a polite and friendly princess. In quick succession, she is kidnapped, framed for treason, finds out her ex-boyfriend is part of a conspiracy to overthrow her government, and she has to foil said overthrow. Then her best friend disappears.
  • The Marquis de Sade loved this, unsurprisingly. Justine is a novel devoted to this, and without even a hint of sympathy for the character.
  • Kingdom Rattus' Tranah. Joins her brother's quest on a lark, and sees everyone she knows and loves either die or turn out to have been lying to her her whole life. It gets so bad for her that at the end, she swears that, given the opportunity, she would betray her own family.
  • In Kira-Kira, this happens to Lynn, due to her illnesses. At first, she seems to have a remission when her family moves into a new house but then things start going downhill after Sammy gets stuck in animal trap. After that stressful event, as her health starts getting worse and worse, her cheerful demeanor goes along with it. She dies shortly after.
  • In Rogue's Home, the second book in the Knight and Rogue Series Michael goes from an eternally optimistic, naive, noble, innocent young man to feeling worthless and despised, and resenting strangers for not being as down on their luck as he is. This is half from having developed magic at the end of the previous book and feeling like a freak for it, and half from being despised for having been maraked as unredeemed, in spite of his only crime being making a stupid mistake. No matter how hard he tries to do good people see him as a criminal and treat him as such. He gets better towards the end, but he never gets quite as cheerful as he was in The Last Knight.
  • The Lady of Shallot in Tennyson's poem, is cute, if eccentric. "Little other care hath she" than weaving the reflections of the world all alone in her tower, until she sees Lancelot and dies of a broken heart.
  • Fantine from Les Misérables. (Cosette, not so much, since her story is the inverse of this trope).
  • Most of A Little Princess is devoted to breaking Sara Crewe. From being the richest, cleverest, and most beloved student at her Boarding School, she goes to a friendless and penniless servant after her father dies — with the news delivered in the middle of her birthday party. The servants and especially Miss Minchin all try their best to break her from that point on. Sara never breaks, but she does cool off and become much more distant and withdrawn, and almost breaks at one point.
  • Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien even wrote a letter explaining that Frodo failed and can't be called a hero, that he was doomed to fail from the start ("he could not even throw the ring into his own fireplace!") and that his failure was in wanting to be called a hero, since nobody could have willingly destroyed the ring without divine intervention, and that the only thing that saved Frodo from A Fate Worse Than Death was his kindness to Gollum. The film version takes pains to emphasize Frodo's cuteness and Woobie-ness, but eventually turns Gollum into a pantomime villain in the third act, which sort of undermines the original point... but Frodo ends up a broken shell of himself anyhow.
  • Lucien from Lost Illusions.
  • Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is one long Break the Cutie plot. Poor Fanny — just her luck that's she'd be the Austen heroine who gets the Darker and Edgier/more realistic story.
  • Rose, from The Mental State, is a cheerful and shy girl who captures the protagonist's heart. Sadly, in Chapter 2, she is brutally raped by street thugs while her boyfriend is Forced to Watch and then horrified by the sight of him taking a knife to her assailants. She runs away terrified of him and is not heard from again until the final chapter, in which another street thug muggs her an attempts to kill her. Luckily, her ex[boyfriend saves her and she realises that he is still the caring and sweet young man he once was deep down. This helps her recover quite quickly.
    • Zack, the main protagonist, could also qualify. He himself is a kind and friendly person who goes to great lengths to help people. Unfortunately, he is also a latent sociopath whose madness is triggered by the event he was forced to witness and the sight of Rose looking at him in horror. He breaks down completely after he saves her the second time and, confronted by his memory of her shocked face, collapses in tears. Once she forgives him and realises that he still cares for her, he quickly recovers too.
  • Mercy Thompson of the eponymous series. She's cheerful and helpful, but in Iron Kissed she got physically and mentally raped. She breaks, and while beating her rapist's head in with a blunt object helped, her slow recovery is the plot of the fourth book and she's still not one hundred percent by the end.
  • Artyom, in Metro 2033. He sets out on a journey from his home station of ВДНХ/VDNKh, and ends up seeing just how far the human race has fallen. Needless to say, he doesn't get a happy ending.
  • The Name of the Wind and its sequels are the story of how the main character went from being a cute, happy 11 year old to a young man waiting for death.
  • In Nano Machine, the young protagonist Cheon Yeowun was visited and was forced by his stepmothers to swear an oath in front of his terminally ill mother, that he would not learn martial arts before he entered Demonic Academy. Learning martial arts was essential to survive the Academy. Yet his mother, Lady Hwa, had to agree to this unfair promise just to spare his son's life in those women's hands. Later, Yeowun realized that the women were actually behind his mother's death, which turned the innocent, harmless 10-year-old boy into full of revenge.
  • In Nightmare Alley, the main character Stan subjects this upon his sweet hearted and painfully naive wife Molly. After they wed he begins neglecting and mistreating her, and things only get worse when he starts cheating on her with the ultra manipulative Lilith.
  • While by no means a cheery character, Bobby Marks has one of these in One Fat Summer, noteable for occurring just as he is starting to gain some measure of self confidence. Kidnapped by local hooligan Willie Rumson and his friends, Bobby is taken to an island, forced to disrobe, subjected to cruel mocking and a threat of violence if he doesn't stay in the position they leave him in, and abandoned for the night. He suffers an emotional breakdown over this but, thankfully, it does not take.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians:
    • Nico di Angelo: Starts out as a cheery, nerdy ten year old then his sister dies and he runs away, then get manipulated by a ghost and trapped in the Labyrinth. He learns that he will never be accepted because he's the son of Hades . When he's twelve he is learns of his mother's death at the hands of Zeus and the curse that Hades put on the Oracle. Hades then says that he'd rather have had Nico die instead of Bianca. When he's 13, he finds out that Bianca was reborn without telling him. Then he goes on a solo mission to find the Doors of Death -for a prophecy he isn't even a part of- only to get sucked into actual Tartarus. He gets out by being kidnapped by Gaea and trapped in a jar for days. Break the cutie indeed.
      • Taken Up to Eleven in House of Hades when it's revealed that he's queer and has been crushing on Percy since the two met.
    • Leo's mom's death. Later, Festus dying on Leo.
    • Hazel's flashbacks.
  • Pedro endures a lot of this in Oblivion, what with witnessing Scott's betrayal and being forced to swim though raw sewage. He then almost dies from poisoning when another of his supposed allies betrays him. There's only so much The Heart can take.
  • The original Pollyanna invents the Glad Game to stop herself from breaking given that she's an orphan living with a grumpy spinster aunt. She eventually breaks when she loses the use of her legs. She gets better, appreciating that she had legs and she is implied to learn to walk again.
  • Fitz Chivalry from Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.
  • Poor, poor Ji-Li Jiang from Red Scarf Girl! Let's see, she starts out as a happy twelve year old who is among the top of her class. Then, the Chinese Cultural Revolution happens and it all goes downhill, really fast. The fact that this is a memoir doesn't help.
  • Revanche Cycle: semi-subverted with the honor- and knighthood-obsessed Mari. She's psychologically tortured to the point of madness, her dreams are systematically shattered, and she ends up throwing herself at the feet of the witch who tortured her, vowing her devoted service. Subverted in that Mari was always murderously batshit crazy; when we first meet her, it's after another character spent a year drugging and brainwashing her, implanting a "good" personality to keep her under control. All the Owl really does, arguably, is bring back the original Mari.
  • Darren Shan from The Saga of Darren Shan goes from being unwilling to even drink blood to very nearly killing Darius, only stopping when he discovers he's his nephew.
  • Lots of characters go through this in the Shadowleague books, but especially Rochalla, Scall, and Annas.
  • Diana Mayo in The Sheik. The titular character hates the English because his father is actually an Englishman who was very abusive of his mother, and he kidnaps her and rapes her with the aim of breaking her just because he can. She later falls in love with him.
  • Heavily implied to be Auri's backstory in The Slow Regard of Silent Things. There are a few hints, but we never really find out what happened to her.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Arya Stark lives on the run as a Street Urchin, sees her father, mother and older brother die without being able to do anything to stop such deaths, progressively falls into insanity and is taken in by a murderous cult.
    • Her older sister, Sansa, starts out sweet, frivolous, and naive, convinced that life is like a song: true knights, elegant princesses, chivalrous princes, all the fairytale rot. Then the breaking begins, kicked off by watching the guy she was all starry-eyed over murder her father right in front of her, and by the end of the second book, all such illusions have been crushed. By book four, the only person she can depend on is a mentally unstable Magnificent Bastard, who is not only training her to follow in his manipulative footsteps but also molesting her.
    • The aforementioned Manipulative Bastard, Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish, mentioned as having been adorably mischievous as a child, went through a similar process to Sansa, leading to his Startof Darkness.
    • Their younger brother Bran loved nothing more than to climb, and wanted to be a knight when he grew up. Then he was pushed out a window by Jaime Lannister and broke his spine. Now he can't even cross the room without help. Then, he's forced to flee his home to escape Theon Greyjoy, and has to go north, beyond the wall, to find someone who will help him master his powers as a skinchanger.
    • Daenerys's brother Viserys is the only close surviving relative, and they were both kicked out of the only home she ever truly knew about. Her brother is horribly abusive, both mentally and physically, seeing her only as a pawn for power and marries her off to a scary barbarian warlord at the age of 13. Although they do both eventually fall in love, nearly everything goes horribly wrong. Her brother is eventually killed, her husband nearly dies of an infected wound and becomes comatose after using blood magic to heal him, and she smothers him out of mercy. Her unborn son Rhaego dies as a result of said blood magic and she is betrayed by nearly everyone she comes across. The end of the first book shows that she's clearly not someone to fuck with anymore as she burns alive the witch that killed her son and made her husband a Soulless Shell and she hatches the only three dragons in the world.
    • In the fifth book, Sansa's friend Jeyne Poole, who is perhaps even more idealistic than Sansa, is married off to the Bastard of Bolton. Rape only begins to describe what follows.
  • The Sparrow: Emilio Sandoz starts the book broken. The rest of the novel shows how he got that way.
  • The Mord-Sith from The Sword of Truth are a perfect example of this. The gentlest and kindest little girls of D'Hara are "broken" with three levels. The first level is to be tortured to the point of absolute obedience. The second level is to watch her teacher torture her mother to death. The third level is for her to torture her father to death. Talk about breaking to the extreme.
  • Pouncequick in Tailchaser's Song.
  • Tim O'Brien's Vietnam novel "The Things They Carried" tells the story of an idealistic G.I. who decides to fly his sweetheart out to join him. She takes quickly to military life. So quickly, in fact, that she falls in with the Green Berets, losing herself to the realities of war and disappearing for days at a time on ambushes. She is last seen trekking alone into the mountains, wearing a necklace of human tongues.
  • Hannah Baker from 13 Reasons Why. Hannah suffers from a number of incidents, some minor (a friend blaming Hannah for unknowingly being used to get revenge on her, a guy she trusted stealing her poem and publishing it in his school newsletter, a boy spreading rumours that their relationship, which never went further than making out, was much more) and some major (failing to prevent a rape, being sexually harassed and later raped by the same person) which finally ends in her committing suicide.
  • In the book This Rag And Bone Shop, a little girl turns up murdered in the woods. The last person to see her was an older boy (the girl being his only friend in the world), the Cutie in this tale, and was interrogated by a Jerkass cop for hours, and forced through his horrible mind-games. After nearly a day passes, in which the cop practically MindRapes him, accuses him of killing his only friend, and doing a good job of breaking an already-cracked Cutie, the boy tearfully confesses to murdering her. But the twist is, he didn't kill her; the girl's brother did. The poor boy is so utterly ruined and broken, reduced to a sobbing wreck by the end of the day, that he was willing to say anything to make it stop. The cop feels terrible guilt upon finding out, and seeing the boy's now-dead-looking eyes...and the end of the story has the boy thinking that if he's been called a murderer once, why not murder? And he takes a butcher knife from the kitchen, goes to the park...
  • In Those That Wake, this happens to Laura in both books and Rose in the sequel.
  • Sal Vikram from TimeRiders, particularly by The Mayan Prophecy. She's the youngest character and has to deal with the fact that she was modeled on a real girl, making her seem like a fake, on top of all the pressures of working for the agency and keeping history as it should be.
  • Touch (2017) seems to live and die off of heavily subverting this trope. In the story thus far, we have seen instances of rape, familial violence, and battlefield trauma, and that's just the characters young enough to automatically qualify as cute. And yet the story has yet to make a single woobie from any of them. While horrible things happen to a number of cute people throughout a large portion of the story, they remain definitively unbroken.
    • James, a plucky twelve year old boy who likes football, anime, and making pancakes for his little sister, was violently raped shortly prior to the beginning of the story, and goes on to use this trauma as a fuel to grow and expand himself on the road to heroism.
    • Casper, a kindhearted and relatable thirteen year old, who goes out of his way to make life better for those around him. Three months prior to the story, his father beat him badly enough to break his arm, and he is currently being pursued by the leader of a powerful crime syndicate for any of a hundred really terrible reasons. He's still as kind and giving as ever.
  • Lev in Unwind.
  • Done to a number of characters in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series:
    "The Lackey patented formula for success—make your audience identify with and care deeply for a character then drop a mountain on him!"
  • In War and Peace, Anatole Kuragin does this to Natasha Rostov by seducing her into abandoning her marriage with Prince Andrei and running away with him. People manage to foil Anatole's plan, but she's never the same afterwards.
  • Water Lily of Wild Cards undergoes this in volume five, after Ti Malice turns her into a junkie for his "kiss" — direct stimulation of the brain's pleasure centres.
  • Val's daughter Chris gets thoroughly broken in The Women's Room, courtesy of a teenage rapist, and uncaring policemen and lawyers. She goes from a happy, precocious teenage girl to a frightened, miserable Broken Bird who gets terrified if her mother leaves the house, and can barely look her mother's friends or boyfriend in the eye. Eventually, Val sends her off to live with some friends on a commune. Chris is furious with Val, believing that her mother is abandoning her just when Chris needs her the most, and breaks off contact (although she does attend Val's funeral). Sadly, Mira never finds out what happened to her afterwards.
  • A double-whammy for Catherine in Washington Square. The first one comes from her father during their stay in Europe; when she tells him she still plans to marry Morris, he gives a speech lathed with sarcasm, comparing her to a mindless animal whose "value is twice as great" after her experiences abroad, ending it with "We have fattened the sheep before he kills it!" Then Morris—after finding out that Catherine will not be as rich as expected— turns his inner Jerkass Up to Eleven hoping it will turn her off him, and when that fails, he cruelly dumps her and runs off to California.
  • Heathcliff spends a lot of the second half of Wuthering Heights doing this to... well, almost everyone. Starting with Hareton, although this is partly also due to Hareton's father's descent into alcoholism (also encouraged by Heathcliff). Then when he discovers that Isabella fancies him, he takes advantage of the fact, mentally and physically abusing her to see how far he can push her — immediately before they elope together, he makes her watch whilst he hangs her pet dog. He then goes onto manipulate his and Isabella's son Linton into seducing the younger Cathy and luring her into Wuthering Heights so that he can have them forcibly married. By the end, Linton is so terrified he's constantly hallucinating Heathcliff's presence. And then he keeps Cathy a virtual prisoner and slave, psychologically and physically tormenting her too. He really isn't a very nice man.
  • Amelia Atwater-Rhodes is fond of using this as a backstory for her characters. She used it for Risika, Sarah, and Turquoise from the Den of Shadows series, and Danica from the Kiesha'ra series.
  • Broken heroines are Catherine Anderson's bread and butter. The leading ladies usually come pre-broken but that doesn't stop more and more awful things from happening to them over the course of the stories. A few prime examples:
    • Molly Sterling. She'd already lost her mother and her best friend, but then ended up marrying a man who verbally abused her until her self-esteem was smashed to nothing, made her believe she was going crazy, drugged her, turned her stepmother against her, forced her into a mental institution and killed her father to get his hands on the family's fortune. Then he stalks her to the ranch where she's hiding out and causes several accidents, leading up to his forcing her to help him burn the place down and beating her until she finally snaps and lets him almost be trampled by a horse. At this point no one would have blamed her if she had.
    • Laura Townsend. Her environmental research career was derailed by a head injury, and she had to learn to walk, talk and do things for herself all over again. She was just barely able to get a job at an animal kennel (again, she was an environmental scientist before her accident), and then a jealous woman started making messes that she'd easily get blamed for, the grand finale being getting her falsely arrested for drug possession and then trying to kill her.
    • Samantha Harrigan. Her mother died in childbirth while having her, she married an abusive adulterer, had her horses poisoned by one of her trusted staff who also managed to make her the prime suspect. When she found out her ex was behind it and busted up his scheme, he attacked and tried to kill her, and very nearly succeeded.
    • Mandy Pajeck. Abused by her father, spent years believing her mother abandoned her and her brother, was accidentally responsible for her brother's blindness and until a few chapters in allowed herself to be guilt-tripped and ordered around by her brother. Later, she discovers her father actually murdered their mother and goes into a Heroic BSoD until she finally decides to get therapy for all the issues she's been carrying around for years.
    • Rachel Hollister. Her entire family was murdered right before her eyes, leaving her terrified of human contact or the outside world for years. The hired hand (the only person she trusts) is nearly killed, forcing her to trust in a stranger who knows the man. And just when her life's starting to get better, the killer comes back to try to finish her off!
    • Rebecca Morgan. Like Rachel, she's the sole survivor of a brutal ambush. She spends much of the book a complete mess prone to crying and fainting fits, thinks everything is her fault and ends up going into an Angst Coma that nearly kills her when the culprits make another appearance.
    • Loni MacEwen. She was born with clairvoyance which has made her life more complicated than one would think, and when her powers fail to help her save a kidnapped child the media goes wild and drives her into a void of self-hatred and angst.
    • Zach and Cody Grant. Their mother Ellie suffers as well, but the boys have to deal with: the death of their older brother, the divorce of their parents, moving to a whole new city, their parents' constant obsessive guilt over the death of their brother, feelings of inferiority and resentment for not being their older brother and severe depression. Is it any wonder they go on a wild adventure just to try to bring their parents back together?
    • Nancy Hoffman. Her father brutally abused her and her mother, indirectly caused her mother's Death by Childbirth, forcibly engaged Nancy to a man she didn't want anything to do with and arranged to have him rape and impregnate her while he sat comfortably in his study drinking expensive wine. The near-rape was traumatizing enough but when she finds out her father planned it, she has a fit!
  • This was Charles Dickens' modus operandi in his books. Read Bleak House, Oliver Twist, or Great Expectations. Even though his protagonists are living in a Crapsack World, Dickens heaps progressively more manure on them and then creates a happy ending by having something mildly good happen to them, which in isolation looks like a massive copout.
  • Lois Mcmaster Bujold has said that her plot generating device is "What's the worst thing I can do to this character?"
  • Some Sidney Sheldon leading ladies are broken souls.
    • The Other Side of Midnight — Young Frenchwoman Noelle Page comes from a poor family and is essentially sold by her doting father into serving as a dress shop owner's mistress; she runs away to Paris after conning the man out of some money, and loses what little she has with her thanks to a dishonest cabbie. While American pilot Larry Douglas gives her a place to stay and they become lovers, his promise to return to her when he's called away to England turns out to be a lie, and by the time she finds out about that she's pregnant...This turns her into an evil Gold Digger who chooses to devote her life to ruining his.
    • Rage of Angels — Jennifer Parker, fresh out of law school, becomes an assistant to the District Attorney of Manhattan just as he's putting a Mafia prince on trial. Alas, a trick by one of the villain's underlings means she unwittingly ruins the case. After firing her, the vengeful D.A. tries to have her disbarred, believing she was in on the plan all along. Her means dwindle quickly as no one will hire her thanks to the bad publicity. But she is determined to survive and becomes an excellent Amoral Attorney in the process, eventually becoming wildly successful. In the end, however, thanks to becoming the mistress of first a senator and then said Mafia prince, she ends up a hollow shell.
    • If Tomorrow Comes — Tracy Whitney is engaged to be married to one of the most eligible bachelors in Philadelphia, but then her mother commits suicide after being ruined by a mobster. Her attempt to right this wrong results in a near-rape, false accusations of attempted murder and actual theft, and — thanks to a crooked lawyer — a sentence that condemns her to a hellish prison for fiteen years. Her fiance turns his back on her, she has no family left, and she's pregnant...until an assault behind bars leads to a miscarriage and her being sent to solitary confinement. During her time there, she swears her Revenge on those who ruined her...
  • Simona Ahrnstedt gives us Beatrice Löwenström in her debut novel Överenskommelser. She's smart, competent and tough, but life has been really hard on her. Not only did she lose her mother when she was only six years old and her father when she was only fourteen years old. But she also has to live with her tyrannical uncle, who abuses her for five long years, forcing her into a marriage with a man, who's like forty years older than her and treats women like dirt under his shoes. Beatrice's relationship with Seth, her love interest, is also complicated to say the least. And just when she thought that things would turn out good between them, cue her sadistic cousin ruining everything! Not to mention that she was brutally raped and almost killed on her wedding night...
  • Tomorrow: When the War Began: Remember Robyn? That quiet, always friendly, strongly pacifistic church-going girl? She gets her world-view thoroughly shattered by the events and ends up being driven to suicide halfway through the series.Ouch.


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