Interpretation of Characters
by Asuka aka gloveblade
"I am the Shinji in Misato's mind," said the other Shinji.
Shinji turned to look at another self.
"And I am the Shinji in Asuka's mind."
Neon Genesis Evangelion in the Instrumentality Room
Interperetation of Characters
When I attended the fanfiction panel at A-Kon 13 (the biggest Anime Convention in Texas, do try to come sometime ^_^) I asked how the panelists felt about fics in which characters where OOC (Out Of Character). Not surprisingly, I got a rather philosophical answer.
All characters of fanfiction are, as a matter of fact, out of character. Each writer has his own interpretation of the characters that he brings to the page. The only time a character can justifiably be in character is under the original author's pen.
Of course, majority rules. There is a commonly held sense of characters that most readers hold. Vegeta is expected to be prideful. Samwise is expected to be loyal to Frodo under all circumstances. Dark Schneider's one and only weakness is his beloved Yoko. Change these for no apparent reason and you've made yourself the helpless target of the character nazis. Give us an event that changes the character, however, and you have crossed to character development and exploration, one of the values in fanfiction writing. (Back, character nazis! Back!)
So technically, there is no boundary in fanfiction dictating in or out of character. To say in a review, "So-and-so is OOC," is really saying, "So-and-so is not the way I would see that character." Does this mean ignoring these interpretations because they are subjective? Certainly not. Another reader/writer has an insight to that character that you do not. It could mean reading a book you haven't, seeing an episode you haven't (or not seeing or reading what you have), or more importantly, identifying with that character in a way that you don't. Understanding the connection that characters have with other readers, as well as with yourself, will help you tremendously in writing them in the future, whether they are in fanfiction or original work.
Another issue in IC/OOC definitions is "costuming." A character seems so OOC, that he is actually the writer's original character with a fanfiction name, or a writer selects certain character traits to keep and others to throw out, changing that character into someone else. Essentially the writers are using other characters and personalities in the "costume" of an existing character. While most writers who do this are unconscious of the act, caught up in the infatuation of the story or the characters themselves, many use costuming as a crutch to pull a certain audience ("Gundam Wing is one of the more popular anime, so if I make it a Gundam Wing fic, I'll get more readers") or lack the confidence to pull away from the fanfiction names and worlds to fulfill their own ("There are people who like this as a Sailor Moon fic, but I may have no audience at all if I remove the names. No one will care. No one will like it.")
Whether your characters are IC or OOC all comes down to your own judgment. However, you can make the effort to follow character patterns that will please your readers and help you understand your characters better. If I feel I'm having trouble with a character (i.e. I'm not sure if that character is IC or OOC within a certain situation) then I'll make a character analysis for myself. Not only can I use the analysis as a reference for that character, but often it helps me to connect with a character I wouldn't normally identify with or endear a character closer to me.
Recap the life of the character within the series or writing that is available to you. Each time the character makes a decision, write the motivation behind the choice that character made. What is the character's ultimate goal? Does that goal change during the story? Explore the character's relationships with other characters. What about the character's past makes that character who she is? If the author gives details about the character in the original work, record them, too (favorite food, worst fear, pet peeve, etc.) If not a major character, then why do you think the author included the character in the work? All of these can be included in your analysis.
Homework: Pick characters from your favorite stories whom you don't understand very well (or don't like because you don't identify with them). Create your own analysis for that character. ^_~