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TV Tropes Monday: Break the Cutie

Tweet of the Day: Vampires in German


This trope is made of two parts. From back to front we have the Cutie, who for the purpose of this trope is either a child or someone who has child like traits (innocence, ignorance, cuteness, defenseless and so on).  A wide eyed character that expects the best out of everyone and has endless enthusiasm.

But life is a cruel bitch.

Enter the Break part of the trope.

Where in a writer(s) throws, steps, rings and otherwise tortures the innocent to the breaking point (and beyond). But why would a writer do this? Are they (or we) sadist?

Yes, yes we are.

Aside from personal entertainment value, there are some real reasons fro doing this:

  • Raising the Stakes: Every misstep of the character or every act of cruelty impose on it raises the stakes. They are the challenges the character has to confront, be they personal, professional or environmental. The story revolves around the characters success or failure in dealing with these hurdles.
  • Life is a Cruel Mistress: Time for the character to grow up. Whatever sheltered life he/she lived before, real life is very different. Bad things (and bad people) happen to good folks. No better way to show how cruel life can be than by throwing an innocent to the wolves.
  • Character Growth: In the process of confronting the evil in the world, the character breaks down, sheds its old skin and is reborn. Mind you, you don’t always get a battle hardened hero at the other end. In fact, if you want to set up a Freudian Excuse for a villain, this is the way to go.
  • How Evil is Evil?: A variation of the second point, if you want to show how evil, twisted or ruthless a villain really is, there is no better way to show it than to have it break the resident cutie, specially if said cutie is a child or some kind of pet hopelessly at the mercy of the villain.
  • Connection to the Audience: When done right, this creates a powerful connection to the audience, since you’re pulling at their heart’s strings like a a rock guitarist in concert on speed. Nothing elicits empathy for the character than innocence lost or cruelly destroyed. And nothing makes the reader cheer when said character takes a Level of Badass and whoops the bad guys. I’m looking at you Neville!

So don’t be afraid to break the cutie in your stories.


And to show you what happens when you Break the Cutie and he comes back as a Badass, I give you Neville Longbottom:


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