When an established character becomes largely different, exhibiting behavior contrary to what has been previously shown. This is not a matter of organic growth. Rather than gradually changing in response to events and experiences, a derailed character will exhibit shockingly unusual behavior that implies malfeasance or incompetence on the part of the writers.
Note that organic growth does not necessarily mean 'benign growth', and it is perfectly possible for a previously good-natured character to end up embittered or depressed without falling victim to this trope. This is rare however, and often unpopular.
In published fiction, derailment is usually caused by an author having a certain story idea and needing to stretch the characters' personality to fit. In the worst cases, the author may end up speaking for the character. In works with multiple authors, a new author may have a wildly different interpretation of a character, causing him to write his version of the character instead of the one established by canon.
Fans motivated by Die for Our Ship will use Character Derailment in their fanfics to remove the character from the Official Couple which is in the way of their OTP (or just because they dislike them).
In the rarest of cases, this can be an example of how Tropes Are Not Bad. Previously boring or irritating characters may actually be improved if they're drastically changed. A classic example is Kelly Bundy from Married... with Children, whose transformation into The Brainless Beauty also coincided with the show's Growing the Beard.
Please check if examples fit better into subtropes before adding them here.
- Aesop Amnesia
- Audience-Alienating Era
- Badass Decay
- Chickification (an Action Girl gets derailed into a Damsel in Distress with nothing in-universe to justify this)
- Comedic Sociopathy (for characters who aren't supposed to act like this)
- Conflict Ball (when characters are derailed just for the sake of drama)
- Derailing Love Interests (When the author gets Bob and Alice together by making Bob's girlfriend Cindy an utter bitch)
- Evil All Along (When poorly executed)
- Face–Heel Turn (When poorly executed)
- Faux Affably Evil (When the character wasn't that much of a jerkass to begin with)
- Heel–Face Turn (When poorly executed)
- Heel–Face Return (When poorly executed)
- Heel–Face Revolving Door (if not conveyed properly and poorly executed)
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope (if not conveyed properly)
- Messiah Creep (when unintentional or overdone)
- Monster Threat Expiration
- Moral Event Horizon (when poorly executed)
- Motive Decay
- Not as You Know Them
- Out-of-Character Moment
- Possession Sue
- Same Character, But Different (when used as a handwave without explaining how/why they changed)
- Strangled by the Red String
- Sympathetic Murder Backstory (when handled badly)
- Took a Level in Dumbass (there's rarely anything that can justify becoming less competent)
- Took a Level in Jerkass
- Ukefication (a male character becomes weak and helpless to support a same-sex 'ship)
- Villain Decay
- You Don't Look Like You
If in Fan Fics, it can involve Canon Defilement, Draco in Leather Pants or Ron the Death Eater (or some combination of the three). When the derailed character's characterization is fixed, it is Character Rerailment.
Contrast Characterization Marches On (where a character changes because their previous characterization was only a "work in progress" as opposed to developed enough to derail), Adaptation Personality Change (when a different version of the character is changed rather than the original being derailed), and Ultimate Universe (where changing the characters is the very premise of the work to begin with, and do not count as examples, unless of course the example is about changes within the ultimate universe itself).
Contrast O.O.C. Is Serious Business for when exceptional cause them to act contrary to their normal characterization, and Moment of Weakness for one-off moments where they regret failing to live up to their normal characterization. See also Character Check (where a derailed character might briefly act like they used to).
No Real Life Examples, Please! You might be looking for Star-Derailing Role in such case.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Comic Strips
- Fan Works
- Live-Action TV
- Professional Wrestling
- Tabletop Games
- Video Games
- Web Original
- Western Animation