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Break the Cutie

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Phase 1: Naïve Everygirl.
Phase 2: Heroic BSoD.
Phase 3: Despair Event Horizon.

"Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of."
Kurt Vonnegut, "Eight Rules for Writing Fiction"

A series introduces a character as sweet and lovable, a fountain of Heartwarming Moments, more comic relief than anything, who likes nothing more than to pet little creatures. They make you adore them, root for them, love them and want to hug them.

Then the writers proceed to slowly torment them in front of your very eyes. They destroy everything important to them, kill everyone they love and make them suffer from horrible accidents, diseases and acts of violence, including but not limited to torture, rape or any other Fate Worse than Death. They beat the character with one cruel stroke of fate after another until they are just an Empty Shell of their former cheerful, carefree self.

This technique is often used to build The Woobie in an attempt to enhance "adorability" points. Writers have to be careful or else The Cutie will become the universe's Chew Toy.

Be careful about torturing sweet little things — sometimes instead of breaking, or when there's nothing left to break, they snap. If they snap, you'd better hope your life insurance policy is up to date, especially if the cutie was a badass to begin with. If they break, but refuse to show it, they could be a Stepford Smiler.

Sometimes it can be Corrupt the Cutie, where the character in question breaks it by themself. Frequently a part of a character crossing the Despair Event Horizon or the cause of a Heroic BSoD. Also frequently part of the backstory of the Broken Bird, and instrumental in the Freudian Excuse of a villain who Used to Be a Sweet Kid. Compare Prone to Tears, who may have once undergone this, and Wide-Eyed Idealist. And sometimes this trope can straight-up kill the character in question.

On a more constructive note, sometimes breaking the cutie can result in a cute but weak character Taking a Level in Badass as they confront their tormentors and become more assertive. Circumstances may even lead to a cutie making an emotional recovery and regaining their sweet, hopeful nature. When the cutie refuses to break, they might become an iron or Stoic Woobie, a Determinator, or a Plucky Girl. If they are simply unbreakable to begin with, they are probably a Pollyanna. They may be the subject of Speaking Up for Another.

Contrast Break the Haughty (where bad things happen to an arrogant person who had it coming), Break the Badass (when a super-strong person is put through the wringer), or the even worse variation, Kill the Cutie. Compare Break the Comedian, when the comedic relief gets made miserable. On the other hand, it may be possible to Heal the Cutie.


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Other examples:

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    Manhwa 
  • Cavalier of the Abyss: Learning how her mother died drove Iffrita insane with hatred for the Demon Clan, especially Serin.
  • Jack Frost: Why exactly is Noh-A dead in the first place? She committed suicide in life after realizing she was a Doom Magnet and being unable to stand the loneliness and the rumors.
  • The Legend of Maian:
    • Felix got hit very hard by Felicia's sacrifice. And it's implied that something bad happened to the Regis Knights during the Time Skip.
    • Ruby gets this treatment also as her formerly kind, loving master turns into a Jerkass who abuses her.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Book of Job of The Bible is one long tale of horrible misfortunes that beset a decent, pious man because God and the devil made a bet on whether he could be broken. He did break, but not quite as far as the Devil wanted him to. Satan's goal was for him to give up on life, curse God and just sorta stop living, as a subtextual request for a mercy-killing (or as his wife puts it, "Why don't you just curse God and die?"); he settles for cursing his own existence.
  • Echo in the Greek Myths was initially a funny, witty, spirited nymph known for her entertaining and humorous stories, and her talent for music. When one of the said stories distracts Hera from avenging a different nymph having an affair with Zeus, Hera takes away Echo's voice. Subsequently, she falls in Unrequited Love with Narcissus, and spends the rest of her life pining away for him. In some versions, she is the victim of an Attempted Rape and successful Murder by the repulsive woodland god Pan.

 
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Tails and Cosmo (spoilers)

In order to stop Dark Oak, Tails is reluctantly forced to fire on him while he's being suppressed by Cosmo, even though the blast would destroy her as well. Just before pulling the trigger, Tails yells out how he feels about Cosmo, and in her final moments, her spirit reaches out to his as they say farewell and remember everything they'd been through together, with Cosmo's final words to Tails being that she loves him as well.

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