Category: 

What Is a Stock Character?

Article Details
  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
The atmosphere of Jupiter's moon Io collapses every time it is eclipsed by the planet.   more...

September 29 ,  2008 :  The Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced its largest one-day drop in history.  more...

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.

Ad

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.

Ad

You might also Like

Recommended

Discuss this Article

cardsfan27
Post 4

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.

JimmyT
Post 3

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.
Izzy78
Post 2

@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.

kentuckycat
Post 1

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.

Post your comments

exception 'Exception' with message 'error writing captcha: Duplicate entry '2147483647' for key 'PRIMARY'' in /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/_core/classes/public/Captcha.php:44
Stack trace:
#0 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/_core/controls/public/ControlDiscussionPostBox.php(324): Captcha->createCaptcha()
#1 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(104): ControlDiscussionPostBox->preRender(false)
#2 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(149): Control->render()
#3 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/tpl/default-nocustom-lu/pages/public/article/article.htm(526): Control->__toString()
#4 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(300): require('/ssd/www/wisege...')
#5 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(309): Control->requireTpl('pages/public/ar...', Object(PageArticleCom), true)
#6 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(131): Control->renderTpl('pages/public/ar...', Object(PageArticleCom))
#7 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/FormDataControl.php(87): Control->renderTemplate()
#8 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(109): FormDataControl->renderTemplate()
#9 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/ScriptPage.php(50): Control->render(false)
#10 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Control.php(149): ScriptPage->render()
#11 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/framework/classes/Page.php(97): Control->__toString()
#12 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/_core/classes/public/PublicFrontController.php(443): Page->processRequest()
#13 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/_core/classes/public/PublicFrontController.php(7): PublicFrontController->renderPage()
#14 /ssd/www/wisegeek/public_html/index.php(11): PublicFrontController::run()
#15 {main}