A stock character is a stereotypical fictional character in a work of art such as a novel, play, or a film whose audiences 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. The presence of a particular array of stock characters is a key component of many genres. The point of the stock character is to move the story along by allowing the audience to already understand the character.
According to Dwight V. Swain, a creative writing professor, and prolific fiction author, all characters begin as stock characters and are fleshed out only as far as needed to advance the plot.
According to E. Graham McKinley, "there is general agreement on the importance of the drama of 'stock' characters. This notion has been considerably explored in film theory, where feminists have argued, female stock characters are only stereotypes (child/woman, whore, bitch, wife, mother, secretary or girl Friday, career women, vamp, etc.)." Thus, the subject of female stock characters has attracted scholarly attention as seen in the work of Ulrike Roesler and Jayandra Soni whose work deals "not only with female stock characters in the sense of typical roles in the dramas but also with other female persons in the area of the theatrical stage..."
Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich, and Holger Schott Syme explain further that "Female stock characters also permit a close level of audience identification; this is true most of all in The Troublesome Raign, where the "weeping woman" type is used to dramatic advantage. This stock character provides pathos as yet another counterpoint to the plays' comic business and royal pomp."
Tara Brabazon discusses how the "school ma'am on the colonial frontier has been a stock character of literature and film in Australia and the United States. She is an ideal foil for the ill-mannered, uncivilized hero. In American literature and film, the spinster from East – generally Boston – has some stock attributes. Polly Welts Kaufman shows that 'her genteel poverty, unbending morality, education, and independent ways make her character a useful foil for the two other female stock characters in Western literature: the prostitute with the heart of gold and the long-suffering farmer's wife.'"