First, a refresher:
OOC: Out of Character. When a real figure is portrayed without of character personality traits/behaviors.
AU: When canonical facts of a setting, characterization of the universe, and/or a character (e.g. Michael) that are being depicted, are purposefully altered. For example, an author might change a timeline, change the context, or some details having to do with the character (e.g. career, income, etc). Note: I'm not very interested in the technicalities/nuances of fanfiction terms.
Wait, so AU doesn't mean Michael is OOC?
Long story short, No. Writing an AU MJ fanfiction doesn't mean that you, the writer, can drastically alter Michael's character without any pushback from readers. Rather, one of the points of writing an AU MJ fanfiction is that MJ's personality remains as close to reality as possible, only changing factors around him.
How OOC is too OOC?
Honestly, this varies. Some authors have been able to get away with going very OOC. Then again, I've also probably heard just as many grumbles about those stories as I have seen positive reviews for the stories. By this I mean everything from having him as a serial rapist, murderer, including incest, a kidnapper..... to him as being perpetually rude or a womanizer. That's quite the spectrum, and the latter two are by no means comparable to the former four. However, all get a notable uproar. If your "Michael" spends more time OOC - or even as much time - it's too much. We are all here because of Michael, so not paying appropriate attention to that fact will have repercussions.
So you decided to go OOC. What now?
Be creative but don't push it. As the summary I gave of AU shows, there are many ways you can exert creativity in a story other than by altering Michael's personality. These include the era, locale, even some of his physical features. As shown by the sheer volume of reviews some stories on here get, the MJ fanfic community is all for exerting creativity and stretching limits. But please take caution: don’t change the personality traits and characteristics of Michael so much that readers can only recognize him by his eyes and lean frame.
Remember that at the end of the day, you are posting for ff on a site that is populated by MJ fans. If you make MJ an ambiguous figure that could be almost any person, then you might find better reception if you just changed his name and posted on a regular ff forum (e.g. archiveofourown, fanfiction.net, etc). If you are posting on MJFiction or another MJ fanfic forum/subforum, think of your writing as if you were writing the next episode/an alternate version of his life or an alternate ending to his life. Readers here will want to connect the Michael they know and love to the creative plots, scenarios, and twists you’ve dreamed up. If they can't see Michael in your story as being the same Michael who they admire, love, and respect, then you will likely lose a good amount of readers and reviewers.
Guidelines for going OOC
All caveats aside, here are some basic suggestions/rules to guide writers who want as many readers, reviewers, and support as possible:
- Go OOC as little as possible. Each time you have Michael go OOC, you test the believability of your story. Whether it is just Michael being perfect or him being disrespectful and a player, you are testing your readers' willingness to suspend reality.
- If you must go OOC, give some explanation for why. This is easily shown through writing Michael's thoughts as he goes OOC, or having another character comment on how his actions are OOC.
- Gradually progress to the place in which Michael is OOC. This way when he is OOC, it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb. For instance, if you going to have Michael start cussing out folks in Chapter 8, have him show signs of sleep deprivation, increased stress, in combination with make others more irritating in chapters 6 and 7.
- Preceed the OOC moment with an event that would reasonably have a huge effect on Michael and spur him to act in an atypical manner. Drawing from real life, one can easily see this in Michael's presentation to court in his pajamas during his trial. He had fallen in the shower that morning and been rushed to the hospital, only to have the judge reject that excuse for not presenting to court (event). Thus, he did not present in his normally impeccable attire (OOC moment).