I am writing a realistic-fiction novel set in the USA during the Great Depression. I intend to use some stock characters to make the story colorful and to flesh out the culture of the period.

Stock characters are types of fictional individuals who have one thing in common with another, like Dr. Frankenstien & Dr. Moreu. They're both mad scientists, from different stories and authors but in the same category based on what their characters are.

I'm not making ALL my characters stock characters, but I think stock characters would help my story because I think they make better sense than my own characters. Are stock characters still really useful to readers, or people of this century? Or are characters like this out of date?

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    more to the point... why are they stock? why aren't you making your tertiary characters individuals, with their own motives and personalities and backgrounds? Stock is fine for the first draft, but why settle for cardboard? Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 16:33
  • I'm not familiar with "stock characters", could you explain a bit more what they are? Do you write them in advance, as part of your research work? Did you find them online? Made them with a character generator? Are they inspired by tropes? (Also what do you mean by colorful/cultural ?) Sorry I don't completely understand what you mean. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 18:07
  • @CerisestHilaire Stock characters are types of fictional individuals who have one thing in common with another, Dr Frankenstien & Dr Moreu Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 19:54
  • @CerisestHilaire They're both mad scientist, from different stories and authors but in the same category based on what character they are Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 19:56
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    If your own characters aren't making sense, you need to either (a) spend more time fleshing out your characters so they do make sense to you and are interesting, or (b) go write some fanfic, which is essentially playing with someone else's characters. Padding your story with clichés because you can't think of your own material means your story is not ready yet. Put it back in the oven and do more worldbuilding, research, and background work. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 23:11

2 Answers 2


I think we need to make a distinction between a stereotype and an archetype here. The two are often confused, as illustrated by Wikipedia's unhelpful definition of a stock character:

A stock character is a stereotypical person whom audiences readily recognize from frequent recurrences in a particular literary tradition. Stock characters are archetypal characters distinguished by their flatness. As a result, they tend to be easy targets for parody and to be criticized as clichés.

Archetypes are the building blocks of stories. Stories are particular constructions of human experience that produce an emotional response in us. We are wired for story. Archetypes are the anchors of key human relationships: hero, trickster, monster, mother, lover, etc. There is no story without archetypes.

Stereotypes, on the other hand, are lazy portrayals of characters, relying more on appeals to prejudice than on appeals to the recognition of the truly human. Archetypes must be fleshed out, and the lazy way to do this is to rely on stereotypes.

Stereotypical characters can appeal to readers by appealing to their prejudices. This is not a literary effect, but since it is satisfying to have ones prejudices confirmed, it may sell lots of books.

A properly fleshed out archetype, on the other hand, is essential to producing a satisfying literary experience.

You might use the term "stock character" to describe either one of these, but the effects and the merits of each are worlds apart.


"Stock characters" are shortcuts to creating characters. As such, you want to limit their use to secondary characters that nevertheless play important parts in one or more scenes.

Doctors are examples of stock characters. They may play an important role in saving the life of the hero or heroine, for instance. But they do this in their roles as physicians, and not as human beings. So you want to portray them as generally competent, very knowledgeable in their chosen field, and reasonably sympathetic, but you don't need to give a lot of background details about their private lives or likes and dislikes for them to "do their job" in your story. That is, when people hear "doctor," it's easy for them to make the connection to "life saver," and that's all they need.

It's different with your primary characters, particularly hero and heroine. Here, you don't want "stock" characters but rather fully developed ones because they dominate the story. The doctors (usually) don't.

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