Diplomats like to use code phrases to describe what transpires in conversations behind closed doors. Examples:
“There was a candid exchange of views.” Meaning: We made no progress at all. Each side staked out its position and stacked sandbags around it.
“The talks were businesslike.” Meaning: We made a good beginning. Both sides put their demands on the table, agreed on an agenda to deal with them, and may have reached agreement on a few minor points.
“The meeting was cut short.” Meaning: We should have stayed at home. Our counterparts threw angry words (and perhaps a few shoes) at us, then stormed out of the room.
“An announcement is forthcoming.” Meaning: We’ve agreed on something rather significant. In fact, this might be one for the history books.
Thoughtful readers can discern in these communiqués whether a summit meeting made real progress or was just another stalemated “exchange of views.” So can the readers of your story dialogue.
Ask yourself these questions about each significant conversation in your narrative:
Do my characters simply state or restate their positions, or do they begin to change positions? Do they reveal their emotions or speak with cool detachment? Do they give the reader any clues about what will happen next? In fact, does their conversation advance the plot at all?
Of course, you won’t be able to answer any of these questions if you have no significant conversations in your story, but that raises a bigger question: Why aren’t there?