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"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, more comic relief than anything, who likes nothing more than to pet little puppies. They make you adore them, root for them and love 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. They beat the character with one cruel stroke of fate after another until they are just a shell of their former cheerful, carefree self.

This technique is often used to build The Woobie. Writers have to be careful though, else it seems The Cutie becomes the universe's Chew Toy.

Be careful about tormenting sweet little things, though—sometimes instead of breaking, they snap. If they do, you'd better hope your life insurance policy is up to date, especially if the cutie was quite the Badass Adorable to begin with. If they do break but refuse to show it, they could be a type-a Stepford Smiler.

Sometimes it can be Corrupt the Cutie, where via Pygmalion Plot or Wife Husbandry, the girl in question breaks it by herself. Frequently a part of a character crossing the Despair Event Horizon. Also, this is 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 Wide-Eyed Idealist.

Contrast: Break the Haughty, where bad things happen to an arrogant person (who had it coming), or the even worse variation Kill the Cutie.

On a positive 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. 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.

No Real Life Examples, Please

Examples of Break the Cutie include: