A stock character is a character type that appears frequently in plays, novels, stories or films of a particular genre. The characters' names, appearances and minor details change from one tale to another, but certain recurring character traits are always or often present.
Any strongly identifiable genre of fiction will usually have a cast of stock characters who appear frequently. For example, crime novels often feature:
- a central detective who is obsessively devoted to his job but struggles with personal problems such as alcoholism and/or a failing marriage
- a younger, inexperienced sidekick to the central detective
- a chief of police who is a good man but disapproves of the detective's unorthodox investigative methods
- a small-time criminal who is a good man deep down and will help the side of law and order in the end.
These characters do not all appear in every crime story, and may be modified by individual authors, but their basic types form part of the conventions of the crime genre. As such, audiences expect characters in crime novels to act a certain way to some degree, and authors are able to use those expectations as a tool, confirming or confounding them as appropriate to a particular situation.
Other genres particularly noted for their use of stock characters include: