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.