All About Stock Characters
A stock character is a stereotypical fictional character in a work of art such as a novel, play, or a film. Stock characters are immediately recognisable because they occur so frequently.
I put it to you there are the stock characters infecting – yes, infecting – the spec pile. We must attempt to treat this disease with a huge dose of Spec Writing Salve, so we might cut off these tired tropes and offensive myths, rather than perpetuate them in our novels and screenplays!
But where do we start???
6) ‘Magical Queer’
AKA The “Gay and Wise & Can Advise You On All Your Hetero-Love Problems Best Friend With A Washboard Stomach And Who Can Probably Give You Foot Massages And Ask You About Your Day And Is Secretly Really The Writer’s Ideal Man ARGH”.
Rom Coms have a lot to answer for. When I got my first gay friend, aged approximately 20, I felt sure he would be able to advise me in all my relationship problems.
The reality? He ate squirty cream out the can; he ran up huge phone bills calling/stalking sexy men and he was addicted to yoga. Any of my romantic crises was met with, “What do you expect? You have only yourself to blame. The guy’s a jerk. Now come to yoga with me and bend yourself into impossible positions, it’s great for stress!”
And then of course my friend would go out with a jerk just like I did and come crying to me about it. Because guess what: stock characters are NOT REAL.
We’d repeat this cycle endlessly, with no BIG REALISATIONS or denouements, just lots of ice cream and bitching about men. Fun, but ultimately unproductive and undramatic, especially when we BOTH never joined the dots and ultimately kept going back for more.
So writers: let’s leave the oh-so-wise, oh-so-empathetic Gay Best Friend out of our screenplays and novels, yeah? Just because you character’s gay doesn’t mean he KNOWS RELATIONSHIPS. Yes, yes of course *some* do, but generally this stock character has become a lazy shorthand for a “mentor” type character or worse, he facilitates your lead character’s emotions. Ugh.
5) Aged Grandma
AKA The Benevolent Grandmother Who’s Way Too Old & Nuts Yet Orphaned Kids Go To Live With Her Anyway.
Okay I blame Roald Dahl for this one. Orphaned kid? I know just the ticket: go live with your grandmother. And she’ll probably have dementia or be literally crumbling away and you’ll feel all alllllllooooone and thus be open to having some kind of adventure involving witches or warlocks or whales or something else beginning with “w”.
My own grandmother was actually the Wolf From Red Riding Hood (okay, she was probably human, but if she was *that* wolf, it would explain a lot) … But anyway: the whole concept of a benevolent Grandmother is completely alien to me. In fact, an Alien Grandma would have been preferable.
But even so, the whole “go live with your Grandma, your parents are dead” is a bit old hat nowadays. Plus we all know what would really happen in this day and age of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing: the kid would be orphaned; the grandmother would file for custody but bureaucratic red tape would mean the child would be put in care for about 10 years whilst she cuts through it … by which point the kid has grown up. If only I was joking.
4) Kickass Hottie
Gorgeous and kicking ass since Sarah Connor: W00t!
Yeah yeah yeah: anything men can do, women can do better, whatevs … Whilst John McClane can’t take on a building full of terrorists without looking like he’s been dragged through a sewer, your average Hardcore Hottie can blow up robots, shoot aliens, take on clones and *whatever* whilst jogging in slo mo and wearing hot pants. Mmmmm, tasty. Also: not what we meant by a “strong female character”, writers: NOT EVEN CLOSE.
Repeat after me – we want flawed, interesting characters … who **happen** to be female.
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. Now go to your rooms and don’t come out until you’ve worked on your character’s backstory – and no, rape/revenge is not allowed. FFS. Naughty writer.
3) Gangster Teen
Troubled Teen Sociopath Who’s A Good Lad Really.
So, your protagonist is a little nuts and who can blame him: his home life sucks; he lives in a deprived area; he works for gangsters; his Dad’s shot through (if he even knows who he is) and his Mum doesn’t love him! He’s an underachiever at school; his teachers are on his case and OMFG JUST GIVE THE LAD A BREAK!
But wait a goddamn second: we know this lad has a heart of gold *really* – because he looks after his little brother and sister. He’s the father none of them ever had. Aaaah. Whilst their Mum is off shagging strangers in the other room or crashing out comatose on the sofa from drink or drugs, this lad will be found reading to his siblings or making packed lunches for the next day … When he’s not selling drugs or breaking knee caps for the estate thugs, of course.
C’MON WRITERS. This stock character isn’t vaguely close to reality, yet turns up again and again as supposed “proof” of how rough some kids have it, viewed from afar by writers who’ve watched too many Ken Loach films. Don’t recycle fiction and make your characters one step away again from reality.
You want to know the reality? Find out by meeting people. The shit some kids have to put up with growing up will take your breath away and make you re-examineyour own life and the society we live in. And that’s GOOD for writers — because then we can challenge this BS with our writing. We can’t challenge anything by recycling.
2) Spooky Kid
The child Who Sees Dead People Or Maybe He’s Already Dead: Damn What An Identity Crisis.
Kids! They say weird stuff all the time yet are secretly incredibly wise, right?
Um, no, wait a second: kids are kids. And yes, “out of the mouth of babes” and all that, but generally speaking your average kid is interested in toys and computer games and bands and drawing and trips and school and you know: NORMAL STUFF. Fancy that!
Children appear everywhere in fiction, but principally ghost stories and Supernatural Thriller screenplays … Just so they can say random shit that makes no sense that’s supposed to intrigue but in actual sense just annoys. That’s right: ANNOYS.
You know any kids? Really? I’m unconvinced, ‘cos the kids in your screenplay or novel just say the same spooky shit over and over, al la Danny from the Shining “RED RUM! RED RUM!” or Cole “I see dead people” Sears.
But look at Danny or Cole again. The reason they are such great characters is not because they say weird stuff, but because they are WHOLE characters, not cardboard cut outs. SO THERE. Also: stop making all the child characters ghosts, you’re giving me a complex! I have to keep checking every child I meet is actually there and not a figment of my imagination or from The Other Side. Jeez.
1) Terrible Teen Mum
“I’m too Young For This Parenting Shit” Mum.
And now for our winner … 9/10 she’s not even THERE, but skipped town years ago, leaving our (sometimes spooky) child with the benevolent grandmother described by point number 5.
Very often the writer will explain away the absence of the mother by saying she was “too young”. Too young?? TOO YOUNG!!! Yes, being “too young” accounts for why she’s a bad parent … Oh no, wait a minute: NO IT DOESN’T. Being young does not automatically make you a bad parent and the sooner we get rid of this tired, offensive and downright STUPID trope the better. Same goes for:
- Poor Mums all being addicted to alcohol and/or drugs
- Or they ignore / neglect their children altogether
- Poor Mums having a ton of children solely for the benefits/for free housing
- Middle class Mums all being depressed/disinterested in their children
- Young women having abortions “as a form of contraception”
… And so it goes on. I’ve written before the Mother character is represented extraordinarily badly by the spec writer – SO SORT IT OUT MOFOS.
Get Rid Of Stock Characters
So check your work for these stock characters. Not for me. I get paid to read your screenplay, no matter what you do.
DO IT FOR YOU.
Yes, you. Why?
Because if you create a great* story, with great characters**, you’re more likely to advance in your writing career. FACT.
But whatever you do, just remember absolutely no one wants stock characters. They are boring.
*Great = not the usual. Why are you still reading this? Get back to your writing.
** As above. Don’t make me smack talk you some more. OFF YOU GO.