We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What Is a Stock Character?

By G. Wiesen
Updated: May 23, 2024

A stock character is a figure within a story whose role and attributes are stereotypical in nature. This type of character is often familiar to an audience, since it is usually similar to figures from other works, allowing for fast and simple recognition of certain traits. A stock character is frequently used in parody, since it provides a stereotype upon which various ideas can be used; figures such as a "damsel in distress," "the wicked stepmother," and "a wealthy and apathetic businessman" are all such characters. These types of roles can also be used for unexpected twists, as an audience assumes a character will act one way, who then does something else instead.

While a stock character is typically one-dimensional and does not usually have a great deal of personal development, these figures can serve important roles within a story. Audiences often enjoy a sense of familiarity, especially when being presented with something that is outlandish or unusual. A stock character often creates a certain amount of comfort for the audience, as they feel that they know what to expect and understand where these characters come from. Additional development can be provided, or these figures may simply remain simplistic and used as contrast for others in a story.

The traits of a stock character are often highly cultural, since the nature of an audience is important for recognition. Figures and roles that American audiences may see as common are not necessarily the same as those characters that seem familiar to a viewer from China or South Africa. Fairy tales and ancient legends are frequently filled with these characters, since many of the roles and archetypes used in modern storytelling descend from such figures. A stock character can be used to recall these other stories, allowing audiences to recognize themes through the introduction of certain roles.

Parody often relies upon the creation of a stock character, since it quickly establishes certain expectations for an audience. A morality tale about the corrupting nature of greed, for example, might use a wealthy and apathetic character to mock the nature of human avarice. A stock character can also be used to set up expectations, but then twist the story in a certain way. The image of women in certain stories as "weak" or "requiring rescue" can be portrayed quickly through a figure that represents these ideas. If this character ends up rescuing a male figure, such as a "handsome prince," then the roles have been reversed from the stereotype and familiar characters begin to take on new attributes.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By cardsfan27 — On Jul 23, 2012

Personally, I hate the use of stock characters, especially in movies. It seems like books are easier to give the stock characters a little more life, but that isn't as easy in movies. Since time can't be devoted to giving these characters a background, they just end up being the same unmemorable characters in every movie.

My all-time most hated stock character is the hard-nosed person who can't see the evidence right in front of their face. In the movies, they are usually so self-centered that they end up causing problems for everyone else. I think my main problem with these characters is that it's always too unbelievable. I can suspend disbelief to an extent for most movies, but when these characters show up, I find myself actually getting angry, because no one could ever be that oblivious in real life.

Another common place for stock characters is in horror movies. You always have one person who talks the group into getting into trouble. Then you have the cautious people and the brave people. Although they're always predictable, I think stock characters are okay in horror movies, because everyone expects it.

By JimmyT — On Jul 23, 2012

As I was reading this, the thing that popped into my head was Lee from "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. In the story, he first appears to be a typical Chinese character from the early 1900s. He has poor speech and works as a servant for a man in California. Along with the poor speech, he wears all the clothes typical of a Chinese servant.

Eventually, another character confronts him about his speech and finds that Lee can actually speak perfect English and is very intelligent. He only keeps up the stereotype because it is what people expect, and white people do not know how to respond when he acts like them.

Like the article says, some books can have a stock character who ends up breaking the mold in some way, and I think this is a good example. Although he is never a main character, Lee and his sophisticated conversations with the other character show a lot about perception and survival, which are two of the main themes of the book.

By Izzy78 — On Jul 22, 2012

@kentuckycat - I don't think I have ever thought of the different ways a stock character can be used, but I see what you mean. The story that immediately jumped into my mind that describes the third scenario is "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." At one point, the main characters are being attacked. Eventually, the attacks stop, and they find out it is because an annoying robot they had angered was talking to the spaceship of the enemies about being upset. In the end, the enemy spaceship killed itself from boredom.

I think one other type of literature in which stock characters play a huge role is in allegories. In an allegory, the characters are representative of an idea. For this type of literature to work, the characters have to take on some level of stereotypical actions.

By kentuckycat — On Jul 21, 2012

I always find that stock characters are very beneficial to building a story. Just like the article says, by using a background that the reader is familiar with, there is less character development that needs to happen. As a reader, you can automatically assume that a lazy, bumbling oaf is probably going to inadvertently cause problems for the protagonist.

At the same time, it seems like there can be certain variations on the same stock characters. Using the oaf described before, there are three or so main types of that character I can think of. I think in the majority of cases, the person ends up hindering the main character only to save the day in the end. In another case, the protagonist might get mad at the other character only to cause the oaf to get upset and turn against him. The third scenario is a combination of the first two in which the oaf turns on the main character but whose stupidity ends up costing the antagonist.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.