In a novel, I love dialogue. So I try to incorporate it as much as possible without over doing it, of course. Dialogue is where I like to reveal information and show reactions. I like using my characters to reveal information to each other as well as to the reader.
When writing dialogue, I try to keep in mind character voice for the character I’m writing. It would be a terrible thing to write a character saying something they wouldn’t say but is rather fitting of another. Now, if we’re talking about minor characters, they’re development is implied by their actions/dialogue to the main character because I don’t spend much time on minor characters. So how they respond to the main character becomes important where they are concerned. I use minor characters as a tool. They help the main character in some way. However, I still try to give minor characters a little depth as well to make them interesting.
Let me attempt to explain. How someone talks, what they say in given circumstances and how they react to each other and to information reveals bits and pieces about the characters. So, instead of me having to always tell the reader about this character (Description), I can just use dialogue (in tandem with description) to accomplish the same thing. For example:
Jane had just finished baking a batch of her famous Snickerdoodle. Placing them on the ledge to cool she heard shuffling footsteps behind her. She whirled. It was Henry, her precocious eight year old son, standing there. His gazed fixed on the steaming batch of cookies.
“Oh no you don’t young man. Not until after dinner.” Jane pointed her finger at him.
“But mom,” Henry whined. He walked over to his mother, hugging her at the legs. “Can’t I have just one? Please?”
Jane smiled at the large pleading eyes. Before she could open her mouth, Hank, her husband of fifteen years walked in, newspaper in hand.
“Jane, let the boy have just one cookie. It won’t hurt.” He sat down at the table and opened his paper.
“Hank, you know how I feel about sweets before dinner. And besides, the cookies aren’t for desert.”
“What?” Closing his paper, Hank looked at Jane perplexed. “But you only bake those once a year. Who are they for?”
“For the church. Henry, honey go wash up.” Giving up his pleas, he dropped his head and walked out of the kitchen. Jane turned to her husband, “Really Hank I swear. It’s for a good cause.”
“Yeah, but did you have to bake the Snickerdoodle? You know those are my favorite. Why couldn’t you make a cake or cupcakes or something?”
“You’re beginning to sound like our son. Him I understand. You acting like you’re eight over some cookies is just, well, ridiculous.”
She could tell Hank was hurt behind the comment. He almost looked like his son, large pleading eyes and quivering lip….
You get the point.
What do we notice here? Jane appears to be that archetype who likes baking. Along with this particular type is the loving, nurturing home maker. She’s baked her famous cookies so she must do a pretty good job and people must love her baking, at least cookie-wise anyway. Then there’s Henry. Not much is said about him other than he’s eight and precocious and wants a cookie before dinner, as with most children. Then there’s Hank. He comes in with a newspaper, so he likes to read his paper. Now I didn’t want to be too descriptive because as I said, I like dialogue but I do love detail as well.
So what does the dialogue say about these characters? Obviously there’s a rule about nothing sweet before dinner, otherwise Jane would have let Henry at the cookies. Henry seems not to care. He wants a cookie and would beg and plead to get one. Hank is with Henry on this one. Just give up a cookie. Hank would in this case bend the rule. We see why. He likes, loves, Jane’s Snickerdoodle cookies. He seems almost upset about it. Hank seems to like them more than Henry since he’s making a bigger deal out of it than his son. Jane doesn’t see the problem and doesn’t really care for her husband’s behavior over something this small.
So dialogue can be used, in my personal opinion as a way to gain insights into both major and minor characters. Details are just as important too because you don’t want too much talking. This is why I use them both, dialogue and details. I strive for richness, texture, and depth for my characters and the world they live in. Letting them run off at the mouth is just one of those ways to do it.
Plus, it’s a good way to divulge information that otherwise would be given by the author’s writing. I much rather the reader get tid-bit information from the characters, instead of me telling them the information all the time.