You’ve seen them: the crazy scientist, the damsel in distress, a noble and chaste hero, the villain who keeps his identity secret, the old guy who trains the hero. These are who you call stock characters, and they have been in fiction for an extremely long time. In fact, they keep showing up in fiction, either exactly as they are or with a new twist. So what is a stock character, where did the concept come from, and what are they used for? Plus, what are some of the most notable stock character types used? Let’s get into it.

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Stock Character Definition

First, let's define stock character

Stock characters were not invented out of the blue, but over time. Authors came to see patterns in both people and the characters portrayed in fiction, from prose to plays. And in a time when prose and plays were still in their infancy, stock characters were not just easy to make, they were the norm. Audiences expected them and authors kept them in the popular culture for centuries. We will now present a stock character definition to explain.


What is a stock character?

A stock character is a type of character used in fictional media that is instantly recognizable to audiences. Authors have used them in countless stories and tales, and the characters themselves have seldom changed in any meaningful way. However, due to their overuse and over reliance in fiction, stock characters are also seen as cliched and have become highly parodied.

Characteristics of stock characters:

  • One dimensional
  • Instantly familiar personalities, traits, and goals
  • Used frequently in fiction, from literature to movies
  • Can solely define the genre of a fictional work
  • Used as a starting point to flesh out characters

Greek and Roman theater helped flesh out stock characters as a concept, but many of the ones we have now would not originate until much, much later. Many stock characters we have today would be further introduced in literature, cinema, and television. Thus, many long standing types were given even greater exposure, which made making some movies and shows easier.

But it also made it easier for people to recognize these characters and think about them with a more critical lens.

In addition to stock characters, character archetypes were also created and fleshed out over time; they represented more broad ideas and traits. So while character archetypes are similar to stock characters, they are not exactly the same. A good way to remember is that archetypes are more general and vague, whereas stock characters are very specific.

One other aspect of these characters that cannot be forgotten are stereotypes. In plenty of cases, stock characters are defined as stereotypes, but that’s only because so many stock characters have been defined by their class, race, or sex. As a result, plenty of stock characters can be fairly offensive, especially by modern standards.

Stock Character Examples

Notable stock character examples

There are a lot of stock character tropes, some of which are still prevalent in fiction, and others which are best left in the past. Because there are so many, we’re going to group them into three categories and provide a list of stock characters. Including some descriptions for the categories and the types included in them. Please note that this list of stock characters includes types that overlap with other categories.


All stories need a main character, which means many stock characters act as our protagonists. Some of these can also overlap with being antagonists or supporting, but some can almost always be found — and only be found — as protagonists.

Stock character types that are usually only ever protagonists would be:

-The Hardboiled Detective
-The Knight-errant
-The Loner
-Prince Charming
-The Straight Man

Some of these have old roots, like the Knight-errant or Prince Charming, while others are more modern but very common, like the Hardboiled Detective or the Loner. While Knight-errant and Prince Charming are very well known and rarely change in style, Hardboiled Detective and the Loner allow authors to write protagonists who can eschew and subvert the traditional role of a hero. Philip Marlowe is a classic example of the Hardboiled Detective.

What is a Stock Character?  •  Hardboiled Detective

Stock character examples that can be protagonists, but are sometimes supporting, or even antagonists, include:

  • The Bad Boy
  • The Damsel in Distress
  • Le Femme Fatale
  • The Girl or Boy Next Door
  • The Hooker with a Heart of Gold-
  • The Hopeless Romantic
  • The Hotshot
  • The Lovers
  • The Momma’s Boy
  • The Nerd (or Geek)
  • The Outlaw
  • The Rebel
  • The Scrooge
  • The Shrew
  • The Starving/Tortured Artist

How any of these stock characters tropes function as a protagonist will obviously vary from author to author, and story to story. Many of them can instead be used as supporting characters, while others manage to become antagonists, such as the Femme Fatale, the Outlaw, and the Scrooge.

The Femme Fatale is an especially tricky stock character, since she can easily come off as anti-hero or villain, depending on the story and character motivations.

What is a Stock Character?  •  Femme Fatale

In other cases, like for the Lovers (think Romeo and Juliet) or the Straight Man (who needs a clownish foil to exist as the titular Straight), more than one character — usually a pair/couple — take the lead as deuteragonists.

If you need an example of what a Straight Man co-protagonist pair looks like, please see the Tommy Boy clip below.

What is a Stock Character?  •  The Straight Man


With a protagonist there must always be an antagonist. Who that antagonist is, what they look like, what they're after, and what their beef is can vary. Stock character tropes have made it easy for writers and audiences to identify some of these, some of which are old, and some of which are relatively new.

These antagonistic stock characters include:

  • The Bad Boy
  • The Black Knight
  • The Dark Lord
  • Le Femme Fatale
  • The Jock
  • Little Green Men
  • The Mad Scientist
  • The Mean Popular Girl
  • The Momma’s Boy
  • The Nerd (or Geek)
  • The Outlaw
  • The Scrooge
  • The Sleazy Lawyer

Some of these, like the Black Knight and the Dark Lord, are overly familiar, especially by modern contexts. Then you have the Jock and the Mean Popular Girl, very familiar stock characters, which evolved out of high school stories that usually had them as antagonists.

Heck, they made a whole movie about Mean Popular Girls!

What is a Stock Character?  •  Mean Girls

Even the Outlaw and Scrooge are pretty familiar by now. This is because types like Outlaw and Scrooge can be easily reduced to being “bad cowboy” and “money-pinching cheapskate.” However, in the case of Scrooge, for example, the reference is the popular fictional character Ebenzer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

In the original story, Scrooge is not only the protagonist, but he changes his ways by the story’s end. It’s only over time that his initial “Bah, humbug!” personality became dominant in this stock character type.

As for Femme Fatale, Nerd/Geek, and Momma’s Boy, the personality type of each type can be used to create a villain, though the obviousness will depend on the writer and story. Sometimes a Momma’s Boy can be an obvious Norman Bates type (from one of Alfred Hitchock’s best movies, Psycho), and sometimes the villain being a Nerd/Greek is hidden underneath the surface.

Even the Femme Fatale is famously not revealed to be a villain until it’s too late for the film noir hero.


Your protagonists and antagonists benefit from being more fleshed out. This is why many stock characters act as springboards for authors to create more three-dimensional characters.

This is also why stock characters reign supreme in supporting roles. After all, how much screen time does the best friend, nosy neighbor, minor love interest, or scientist guy need? It’s that mindset that has created so many stock supporting characters and allowed them to flourish even to this day.

It’s also why you will see a lot of overlap especially in this category, as plenty of protagonists or antagonists character stock examples can be relegated to supporting if the author so chooses.

Some of the most notable supporting stock characters can include:

  • Absent-minded Professor
  • Damsel in Distress
  • The Girl or Boy Next Door
  • The Hooker with a Heart of Gold
  • The Hopeless Romantic
  • The Housewife
  • The Hotshot
  • The Igor
  • The Jock
  • The Mad Scientist
  • The Mean Popular Girl
  • The Nice Guy
  • The Outlaw
  • The Rebel
  • The Redshirt
  • The Scrooge
  • The Shrew
  • The Sleazy Lawyer
  • The Starving/Tortured Artist
  • The Village Idiot
  • The Wise Fool
  • The Wise Old Man

Some of these supporting stock characters pretty much only exist as supporting characters. Among these “supporting only” stock characters is the Redshirt, famously originating from Star Trek, who exist solely to be killed off. There is also the Igor character type, who is often the assistant to the Mad Scientist (or some other villain).

We then also have the two “wise” guys: the wise fool and the wise old man. The wise fool is almost always just a support character who might occasionally say something bright, but the wise old man is often vital to the journey of the protagonist. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars are easily among the most recognized “old wise men” in pop culture.

What is a Stock Character?  •  Wise Old Man

As you can see from this list of stock characters, there is no shortage of examples. And while stock characters examples can be useful, the rules on how to use them have changed dramatically over the centuries. While some stories use them as is, others challenge their audiences by subverting what they might expect out of a traditional character.

Ultimately, how a stock character is utilized comes down to the authors, be them writers, producers, directors, or actors.

Up Next

Character Archetypes

Now that you know more about stock character types, jump into the world of character archetypes. We go over notable types and provide thorough examples to ensure you know what to expect and how to implement them into your next project and make them your own.

Up Next: Archetypes →
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