I put it to you there are the same characters infecting – yes, infecting – the spec pile and 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? There are so many. Well, how about these, for starters:

6.  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. 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. 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. Hardcore 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. 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 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. The Kid 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. “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

– Poor Mums ignoring their children

– 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.

And while you’re at it, check out your work for those “old hat” characters and motivations too.

Not for me. I get paid to read your screenplay, no matter what you do.


Yes, you. Why?

Because if you create a great* story, with great characters**, you’re more likely to advance in your writing career. FACT.

So what are you waiting for?


*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.

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18 Responses to 6 Stock Characters That Need Retiring By Writers NOW

  1. SamuelClark says:

    But I enjoy number 2, it’s part of the fun. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, be afraid of the weird spooky children…

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Yep, though as in the post: Spooky Child is not a problem; the Cardboard Cut-Out Spooky Child who utters strange & random sayings is the problem.

      • Dunno Yet says:

        This isn’t always children, either. In 75% of haunting stories, there is one person, usually “the quiet one”, who will stare at something for NO REASON, very early on. And we’ll just sit there for twelve seconds and wait for them to get done staring at it, with a vacant and/or slightly curious expression. It’s the worst kind of exposition because it doesn’t make ANY SENSE. What reason have they to stare at it? Are they psychic? No. Is the entity sending out some kind of message to that person? No. The staring is just there to tell US, the viewers, that hey, this door/object/person is going to be important later! It sucks out the mystery, AND it’s lazy. And frankly, in my book, it breaks the fourth wall because it’s SO OBVIOUS what they’re doing. Kids saying weird/cryptic things fall into this category, as well as Random Probably Old Neighbor Who Will Tell You Exactly One Thing About The Lore And Then Fall Strangely Silent Because The Writer Wanted To Drop This Piece Of Information But Didn’t Know How So They Invented A Character To Just Be Weird And Fall Silent When It’s Convenient For The Writer. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!! Kill me!

  2. Katherine says:

    Can we also include the hero with the dead wife? You know, the one who doesn’t appear in the story at all, except for a brief, painful allusion when the actor stares off into the middle distance at the memory of her. He’s suffering on the inside. Honest. And that’s why he’s violent/deep/has the emotional range of a dead housefly. Or why the female character (if she exists) is so drawn to him, because he needs fixing. Yep, we feel your pain. Now please feel our pain, and stop doing it.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Haha so with you on this – and it forms a large part of my book, WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS, out September 2013 … Thanks for facillitating the shameless plug! 😉

    • John Connell says:

      Katherine: You’re almost as funny as Lucy!

  3. Jill Rattray says:

    What about the character who are thick as two short planks, but emotionally a genius. (Joey from Friends, Sam and Brittany from Glee).

  4. […] go around the houses and/or fall into the “usual” traps, such as cliched openers, icky stock characters or those dreaded Zeitgeist […]

  5. Michelle Duffy says:

    Also, can we lose the ‘Perfect Girlfriend’? She’s beautiful but doesn’t know it, says all the right things, wafts about sexily in floaty nighties and has an unthreatening job like Primary School Teacher. She’s most likely only there to die, so the hero can have angst – worst offender, Wolverine Origins.

  6. Michelle Duffy says:

    Also, in kids’ telly/films, the female character who’s the ‘sensible older sister’, so all the male characters get to make fart noises, have fun and get in trouble, while the female character rolls her eyes and tuts about how foolish they are, then has to sort it all out and be the sensible one. Apparently this is supposed to be feminist progress.

    Basically, I guess I’m bored with perfection.

  7. John Connell says:

    Thanks for a great read. I’m still laughing.

  8. Karen says:

    You missed out ‘the magic negro’ that wise black character that comes along and sets the white protagonist on the straight and narrow with some platitudes and words of wisdom if I see one more of these I’m going to be sick despite the fact it keeps Morgan Freeman in gainful employment

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