Grant Morrison: No, I'm a vegetarian. You'll be whatever you're written to be.
In some stories, a character is very different every time they appear—so different that it's almost a different character with the same name. This is particularly common with long-running shows and comic books and even This Very Wiki, due to the large number of writers on staff. But there are some characters where even the same writer makes them different every time, deciding to tweak their personalities as the plot demands or for Rule of Funny.
Don't get this confused with character depth. Also, just because you can't predict a character's moves 100% of the time doesn't mean they're inconsistent. Now, if you can predict a character's moves 100% of the time only when you know who's writing, then they're definitely inconsistent.
Different writers with different ideas and understandings of the work are also the usual culprit of Continuity Drift.
If the writers themselves begin to notice this, they might attempt an Author's Saving Throw. This can be in the form of trying to plausibly reconcile the differing depictions, leading to genuine Character Development (such as revealing [X] to be the reason why this character occasionally acts like [Y]), or agreeing to stick to the most popular persona (writers A, B, and C write this character differently, but audiences love C's take the most, so A and B eventually follow suit).
See also Ping-Pong Naïveté.
Compare Alternative Character Interpretation, Depending on the Artist, Era-Specific Personality, Same Character, but Different, Interpretative Character, Armed with Canon, Running the Asylum, Character Derailment.
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- Under the ironic pen of Paul Magrs in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio Excelis Dawns, Lord Grayvorn is something of an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, with strong hints that his unseen army is a lot less impressive than he suggests. In the subsequent audios in the Excelis Trilogy, he's a much more serious threat. It could be that he's Taken A Level In Badass, but even the Doctor doesn't argue much with the idea that he was the planet's most powerful warlord back in the day.
- In Lamput, the living situations of the Docs varies per episode, depending on what works for the episode proper. Some episodes have them living in separate houses, which also becomes inconsistent if the two of them are neighbors or not. Other times they're roommates living in the same house, which then becomes inconsistent if they have their own rooms or share one.
- Due to not having much of an official canon, period, the Haunted Mansion fandom is full of alternate continuities, backstories, mechanics and characterizations for the same familiar house and spooks. Even within the Haunted Mansion and the Hatbox Ghost Fan Verse, characterization can greatly vary. For instance, the Hatbox Ghost is a Grumpy Old Man in most people's comics, but Sidisney tends to ramp up his childish mischief instead. Also, some of the comics by most authors who are nominally included in the Fan Verse have to be discounted in the fanverse's canon.
- Touhou fanworks. It's extremely common to see takes on characters that either hew close to the official details, exaggerate them for parody or drama, or blatantly ignore them. Complicated with endless arguments about what is canon and fanon. One doujin can make one character extremely nice, another a complete jerkass, another an Axe-Crazy mass murderer.
- This is just as pronounced, if not more so, in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom; different authors will very often have different interpretations of the characters and setting, as expected of fanfic. But it gets really extreme when it comes to works about the many background characters whose personalities are based primarily in fanon rather than canon. While there is some basic fanon you can expect to be adhered to for each character (much of which became Ascended Fanon over the show's run), there is still more than enough room for stories by different authors to treat characters like Derpy Hooves very differently from each other.
- The Total Drama fandom does this with select characters, where different authors might have drastically different characterizations for the same people. While almost everyone gets hit with this to an extent, these are some of the most notable examples:
- In general: Should the biographies on the campers written back in season one be followed to the letter, or ignored much like what canon does?
- Ezekiel: Shallow Jerkass or good-at-heart borderline Moe?
- Courtney: Reasonable if a little uptight person or capslocking, sue-crazy sociopath? This would be a case of Ron the Death Eater, except depictions of her in the series following the first season does lean over to the latter, particularly in season two.
- Owen — not so much the guy himself, but what people think of him. Is he still one of the most popular characters in-universe or does everyone feel sympathetic, yet sick of him at the same time?
- Izzy: Truly deranged nutcase or just an energetic Shameless Fanservice Girl who happens to like telling tall tales?
- Gwen: Thanks to the Duncan-kiss incident, she can either be a hero in the right or a devious antagonist depending on the author's character and/or shipping preference. Mostly shipping preference.
- Alejandro: The season's sadistic Big Bad or misunderstood guy who just wants Heather to love him?
- Gravity Falls fanfiction has a few prominent "fan-verses", but the one with most variants is the Reverse Falls AU, where Gideon Gleeful and Pacifica Northwest switch places with Dipper and Mabel. Outside the basic foundations of it being a Mirror Universe, many of the surrounding details change a lot depending on the author's headcanons. Sometimes Pacifica will have a personality similar to canon Mabel's, and sometimes she's a Granola Girl. The twins' villainous nature varies wildly, going from redeemable antagonists to irredeemable monsters. Sometimes Stan and Ford are pawns of the twins ala Bud Gleeful, and sometimes theyre subtle manipulators. Sometimes Will truly is a wimpy version of Bill being victimized, and sometimes he's the true Big Bad playing the long time. Sometimes the story will be tonally in line with the show; other times it will be Darker and Edgier or even Bloodier and Gorier. Outside that basic morally alignment switch regarding the four kids (and the resulting costume changes), everything else is pretty fair game.
- Harry Potter: Screenwriter Steve Kloves has often been derisively called a Harmonian, for the emphasis his films put on Harry and Hermione's relationship, including a slow dance after Ron abandoned them in the forest in the Deathly Hallows movie (though the end stuck with the book's Hermione/Ron marriage).
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Loki's characterization: in Thor, he's characterized as an Affably Evil Anti-Villain and tragic figure. In The Avengers, Joss Whedon characterizes him as Faux Affably Evil and almost entirely without redeeming features. Whedon even states on the DVD Commentary that he set out to make Loki less sympathetic. The writers of Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok had to merge the two characterizations, while Loki centered its character development on his inconsistent personality and finding who the "real" Loki is (Loki himself feels troubled watching his gleeful sadism from The Avengers).
- A smaller version occurred with Tony Stark in the first The Avengers movie. Tony was always snarky, but now being written by Whedon, Author Appeal shines through as his snarks include many movie references.
- In the Avengers films written and directed by Joss Whedon, Natasha's main connection to the team are Bruce Banner (as a feared Terror Hero to her in the first and Promoted to Love Interest in Age of Ultron) and old friend Hawkeye. In the Captain America sequels, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, written by Stephen McFeeley and Christopher Markus and directed by the Russos, her Avengers orbit goes through Steve Rogers, elevating the pair into eventual Platonic Life-Partners. Similarly, she's more emotionally open to her teammates (especially Steve) in the latter films while more of a dryly detached teammate in Whedon's films.
- Bruce Banner during his first few films was portrayed as a Hurting Hero, struggling to come to grips with his alter ego. In Thor: Ragnarok, he's written as a more nebbish Comedic Hero, although waking up from a two-year Hulk coma on an alien planet can partly explain it.
- Although the question of whether To Be Lawful or Good has remained consistent throughout his appearances, Steve Rogers has had different sides of his personality emphasized depending on whether Joe Johnston or the Russo Brothers or Joss Whedon are helming the movie. In the Johnston/Russos' movies (written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), their take on Cap emphasizes the grimmer, human side of Steve, forcing him to reflect upon all that he's lost, his place in the world and whether he should be Captain America or Steve Rogers, with him always picking the latter, lawfulness be damned. Conversely, Whedon's take on the character tends to have him focusing on the threat at hand while downplaying his "Man Out Of Time" habits, emphasizing his Captain America persona and having him be a more self-assured figure who takes pride in the lawful Good Old Ways and is critical of rulebreakers.
- On a more minor note, Steve's Love Interest - be it hinted or stated - varies depending on the movie. The First Avenger and Age of Ultron showcases Peggy as his one true love, only for The Winter Soldier and Civil War to bounce him between a Ship Tease with Natasha Romanoff and Sharon Carter, respectively. Endgame puts the debate to rest by solidifying Peggy as his heart's desire, but it's pretty clear that his romance subplot went through more twists and turns than was strictly necessary due to Writing by the Seat of Your Pants (Sharon was planned to be Steve's primary love interest as in the comics, but a combination of Peggy becoming a Smurfette Breakout, Natasha's expanded role in The Winter Soldier absorbing scenes originally meant for Sharon, and the delayed Steve/Sharon romance in Civil War going over like a lead balloon, made the decision to return to Peggy a case of last-minute course correction).
- Invoked with Vocaloid: In order to give users as much freedom with their song-writing as possible, the official creators generally give Vocaloids little-to-no canon personality. Needless to say, this results in fans portraying any given character as an Axe-Crazy killer one day to the kid-friendly salesperson of vegetable juice the next. May qualify as Fridge Brilliance: since the Vocaloids are musicians (at least in the context of songs that feature them) they may just be playing a role rather than actually acting like that (contrast Hatsune Miku's World Is Mine, where she's portrayed as something of a brat, to her Genki Girl self in PoPiPo).
- Myths and legends are highly subject to this, as even the written records originated from Oral Tradition and have no known original version, and thus there is no "canon." For one specific example, consider the Greek myth of Arachne. The basic details are always the same: Arachne is said to be a better weaver than even Athena (the goddess of weaving) herself, Athena challenges her to a contest to see who's better, and by the end Arachne is a spider. The specifics, however, change from telling to telling.
- In some versions, Arachne actually is that good and wins the weaving contest, with Athena retaliating out of pettiness. In others, Arachne weaves a tapestry that is indeed very good, but Athena (being an immortal goddess) weaves one which is infinitely more beautiful, and Athena punishes Arachne for her hubris by transforming her into a spider. There is another version in which Arachne weaves a tapestry that depicts evil things the gods have done, and this is the final insult that drives Athena to turn her into a spider.
- In some versions, Arachne openly boasts that she is superior to Athena. In another, it is Arachne's mother who says her daughter surpasses the gods. In another, Athena simply notices a highly skilled mortal and challenges her to a weaving contest.
- In general, Arachne and Athena's characterization changes depending on the storyteller. In one version Arachne is not only proud of her skill but openly insults the gods, and quite frankly is asking for it. In another she simply caught the eye of Athena by being a talented weaver. Similarly, in some versions Athena is a graceful goddess who gives Arachne every chance to prove herself, while in others she's petty and vindictive.
- In the darkest version (but arguably the one that portrays Arachne and Athena most favorably), Arachne hangs herself in Athena's temple as a self-imposed penance for defeating her idol whom she worshiped (she would have thrown the match had she known who her opponent was). Athena is saddened by Arachne's death, and touched by her devotee's piety. To memorialize her skill, she changes the noose into a thread, and Arachne's corpse into the first spider.
- Who killed King Agamemnon and why? According to Homer, it was his cousin Aegisthus, as an extension of the Cycle of Revenge that defined the House of Atreus. Homer also holds Aegisthus wholly responsible for Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra turning against the king. A later and more popular version, told by Aeschylus in The Oresteia, says that Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his and Clytemnestra's daughter Iphigenia to Artemis in penance for a Blasphemous Boast and Clytemnestra murdered him herself in revenge.
- King Arthur. Basically every possible interpretation of him has been seen somewhere, from noble warrior with a few minor failings, to a largely inactive figure who sits back and lets the Knights do all the work, to a deeply flawed man who happens to be the hero Logres needs, to a bloody-handed tyrant. This is to say nothing of the lineup of the Round Table, many of whom have been altered so many times and written in so many different ways that only the name remains even semi-constant.
- In the Nart Sagas, Setenaya takes on a multitude of roles, many of them seemingly contradictory. In different tales she may play the part of the wise woman, the innocent maiden, the seductive temptress, the rape victim, the manipulative bitch, the compassionate mother, the quasi-scientist, or the wily sorceress.
- One Aesop fable invokes this: a man and lion debate about who is the strongest of the two, with the man supporting his claim of man being the strongest with a statue of a man slaying a lion. The lion retorts that the statue was man-made, and if a lion could sculpt it would show a lion slaying a man.
- In any theatre production, it is common that the way the characters are presented will be different depending on the actor and director. For example, in Oklahoma!!, Jud Fry can be played as a buffoon lacking intelligence, a possessive and evil man, a slightly insane man or a sympathetic and misunderstood man who struggles with depression. Curly could also be played as an overconfident and cocky braggart who is slightly cowardly or a person who is confident and charming. This mostly depends on the depth of the director.
- It can also happen with the choice of actor, too - some characters tend to make a character sound different. Or in the case of a certain character. Brunhilde. They normally had fat or extremely masculine looking women play her, but with a choice of actress, she becomes more attractive.
- There are lots of examples from William Shakespeare. Is Hamlet mad, or just faking it? Does Gertrude drink the poisoned wine deliberately (suggesting a greater understanding of the situation than indicated in the text)? Is Banquo's ghost really there during the feast, or is Macbeth hallucinating? Is Shylock a truly nasty piece of work, or is he an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain? Is Antonio in love with Sebastian? Just how straight is Kate's end-of-play lecture on wifely submission played? And so on ad infinitum. It all depends on the director and the actor.
- This was the downfall (or, rather, show stopper) of Adolf Hitler in The Producers.
- Adaptation Distillation of Les Misérables means characters and relationships are very much up to the actors' interpretations. One example is the relationship between Enjolras and Grantaire - some productions play up their closeness and/or Homoerotic Subtext more than others.
- The Nuzlocke Comics involve turning a playthrough of one of the Pokemon games into a comic strip or written story, and there are a lot of variations on the rules of the challenge itself, as well as the setting and the characters involved. Does the term "Nuzlocke" have any meaning within the world itself? Is it a Self-Imposed Challenge, a curse, or simply an unnamed rule of the world? Can trainers understand what their Pokemon are saying? If so, how? Can only some of their Pokemon communicate with them, via human speech or telepathy, or can all of them speak freely?