Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Sideways. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

SYNOPSIS: "Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week long road trip through California's wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle."  Synopsis Source:

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Risk-averse and unwilling to engage in a new romantic relationship, Miles begins the story unable to let go off his 2-year old divorce from Victoria. Coming to a closure with his divorce issues, Miles ends up consuming his 1961 Cheval Blanc bottle (originally acquired to celebrate their 10th year-anniversary together), an earlier symbol of his refusal to let go. He starts seizing opportunities as he takes steps towards a new romantic life with Maya.

Main Character Growth

Miles is the cause of his own problems: his bad behavior, his lack of self-worth, and his unending refusal to let his divorce go need to stop before he can grow into his resolve. His negative attitude towards expectations and new romantic relationships also serve as indicators of the chip on his shoulder he needs to get rid of.

Main Character Approach

Miles alters himself to deal with his problems. He lowers his expectations to avoid disappointment and rejection: “I’m not gonna get my hopes up. I’ve stopped caring. That’s it. I’ve stopped caring.” He drinks to numb himself and takes anti-depressants to alter his feelings. He also visits a shrink—someone who helps one work things out internally.

Main Character Mental Sex

Miles tries to solve his problems by looking for balance. He lies to everyone in an effort to maintain stable relationships. Holistic thinkers tend to look for balance, aspects of fulfillment and temporal connections, as perfectly exemplified by Miles’s description of Pinot - his favorite wine (which happens to be a metaphor for himself, as opposed to Cabernet which symbolizes his friend Jack): “Pinot is a hard grape to grow, temperamental, ripens early.  It’s not a survivor like Cabernet.  It needs constant care and attention, can only grow under very specific circumstances and realize its full potential with the most patient and nurturing of growers.  Only someone who really takes the time to realize Pinot’s full potential can coax it into its fullest expression.”

Story Driver

Miles picks up Jack to head to Santa Barbara wine country, leading to decisions about what to do during the trip. Miles and Jack run into Stephanie, leading to decisions regarding taking her and Maya out to dinner. Jack hooks up with Stephanie while Maya leaves Miles, leading to decisions as to how to handle the situation from that point. Miles gets Jack’s wallet and wedding rings back, leading to decisions about how to deal with a cover up for Jack’s broken nose now that the wedding is still on. Jack gets married, Miles knocks on Maya’s door.

Story Limit

Jack and Christine’s wedding happens in 10 days. Jack (as protagonist) has that long to handle his problems.

Story Outcome

During the final wedding scene, Jack and his wife ceremoniously join forehead-to-forehead, pledging themselves to one another. Jack subtly breaks away from the moment and casts a private look at Miles, flashing a hint of a smile. Failing to get the womanizing out of his system, Jack is unable to play the role of a loving husband. He can’t even fake it through the ceremony. It’s not going to last.

Story Judgment

Miles gradually gains back his self-worth, lets his divorce go and drops his attitude, enabling him to seize new opportunities before they are ripe - a metaphor with wine which needs to be consumed before it peaks. His newfound attitude is rewarded with a phone message from Maya, opening a genuine romance opportunity for him. The movie ends with Miles seizing the chance and knocking at her door, ending on a hopeful chance of a potential future together.

Overall Story Throughline

"Sleeping around before the wedding"

Overall Story Throughline

Everybody’s problems are rooted in Psychology. The overall story explores the problems born from dysfunctional relationships, mostly between Miles, Jack, Maya, Stephanie, and to a degree Victoria and Christine. Whether generated by Miles’s fearsome, destructive and antisocial bitterness, by Jack’s compulsive, irresponsible and immature obsession with women, or their shared penchant for lies, difficulties arise from deception, from manipulating or being manipulated, and confronting different manners of thinking while engaged in a psychological dance. “Sideways” explores the growing pains of discontented people trying to mature into - more or less - meaningful relationships. Every objective character encounters problems while trying to cope with their own personal romantic history. It’s a game of compatibility chess for all—tarnished by manipulative lies.

Overall Story Concern

Problems arise for everyone because of acts of deception, playing with appearances, not being or doing who/what one claims to. Jack posing as a single man and Miles as a published author lead to major conflict with Stephanie and Maya. Jack lying to his wife about his real activities causes him problems and generates tension between him and Miles. Conflict arises when Miles lies to Jack about telling Maya about his wedding plans. Maya is deeply concerned with avoiding lies in her life.  She has been trying to “extricate herself from a previous marriage full of deception” with a UCLA philosophy professor who was “a fraud”. She’s looking for authenticity.

The story is peppered with small-time lies as well: Jack lies to Miles about reading his latest draft, about trying to call Christine back on the phone. Miles lies about his hangover causing him to be late to pick up Jack and he blames the traffic.

Even books must “play a role” to survive in the world of that story. Evelyn (Miles’s publishing agent): “It’s not about the quality of the book anymore, it’s about marketing it”—exactly what the protagonist (Jack) does in the Overall Story: he markets appearances.

Overall Story Issue

Jack concerns himself with being well-thought of by Stephanie and Cammi as a lover, and by Christine as a future husband. Miles concerns himself with being well-thought of as a husband by his ex-wife (Victoria).  He also directs a lot of thoughts towards considering relationships as a valid option in his life. He considers Maya as a lover, being considered and well-thought of by Maya as a lover, and being considered in a positive light as a writer. Maya and Stephanie concern themselves with considering Miles and Jack as a lovers, forming thoughts about them.
Thought as “consideration” is also at the heart of the overall story with Jack being inconsiderate enough of women to lie flat out to their faces and Miles weighing the pros and cons to death before acting on anything.

Overall Story Counterpoint

Knowing or not knowing is a recurring thematic in the Overall Story. A lot of effort goes into limiting knowledge to ensure a certain form of thought or consideration (counterpoint). Maya and Stephanie’s personal considerations about Miles and Jack clash with exposure to new elements of actual knowledge about the two men, challenging what they previously held to be true. Jack tries everything he can to prevent Christine from knowing what he’s really up to and doesn’t want Miles to mention his wedding to Stephanie or Maya. Miles conceals knowledge from Maya and Stephanie about his book not being confirmed for publication and he conceals alcoholism from Jack’s family as the real reason for his late arrival. Knowledge about wine (or lack thereof) is also significantly present throughout the story.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Thought vs.Knowledge

Miles is afraid of how he’ll be considered by Maya if she finds out that he lied about his book being published. To be considered as a lover, Jack conceals knowledge from Stephanie about him not being single. Once aware of Miles’s lies, Maya must deal with how to consider him.
Christine can’t know about Jack’s activities if he is to be considered as a husband.

Overall Story Problem

Everybody’s problems stem from unending lies and manners of thinking.  Problems arise because Jack can’t stop lying about his upcoming marriage resulting in him playing the field and sleeping with women. Problems also arise because Miles perpetuates Jack’s lie about them being in wine country to celebrate his book being published.

Overall Story Solution

With the Overall Story ending in Failure, the Overall Story Solution hardly, if ever, comes into play. Jack and Miles could have ended the lies with Maya and Stephanie. Jack could have ended the wedding with Christine. Miles opposes Jack several times and voices some disagreement with his shenanigans but never actually tries to stop him (before entering Stephanie’s place: “Are you sure you want to do this?”). He tries to get Jack to reconsider and call his wife after she leaves unanswered messages on Jack’s cell phone, but Jack refuses to end it.

Overall Story Symptom

Jack has a hunch that his wedding is really not going to work out. Early in the movie, he asks Miles “Am I making a mistake marrying Christine?” Jack’s unending shenanigans lead to symptoms like Christine leaving tons of phone messages because her hunch tells her something strange is going on. Jack’s hunch (“I have to follow my instincts”—and chase girls) is seemingly at the root of everyone’s problems, while it really is the manifestation of the actual problem of perpetual lying.

Overall Story Response

Jack comes up with countless theories and pontificates over rational reasons for his womanizing attitude: he’s not getting any younger, he’s an actor and must listen to his instincts rather than go against them, he’s watching out for Christine’s future by reconsidering a marriage with her, etc… Jack also constantly speculates that Miles’s book is going to get published (when addressing his family, when addressing Maya or Stephanie), to which Miles responds with more theories and speculations on why it’s not going to work (“There’s interest but it’s a small, specialized press company, it’s far from a done deal”). Miles knows it’s not gonna work if he’s straight with these women, so he makes up reasons as well. (“Maya learns that I’m not a writer, any interest she has will vaporize real quick!”). In response to Jack’s hunch that Maya likes him and he wants to help him get laid, Miles postulates that Jack really is interested in this for himself.

Overall Story Catalyst

The story is pushed forward when characters realize what they hold to be true is false: when Stephanie and Maya find out about the wedding that is about to take place they realize they’ve been played by Jack and Miles.

Overall Story Inhibitor

The conflict in the story slows down whenever Miles, Jack, Stephanie or Maya experience the uplifting delights of romance together.

Overall Story Benchmark

Progress in the Overall Story is measured by how the characters (mostly don’t) manage to change their natures. Progress is measured by how honest or dishonest Jack and Miles become, how more or less womanizing Jack becomes, and whether or not single characters become a couple. Jack remains a liar and a womanizer and Miles remains dishonest for too long to help the Overall Story. Miles, Maya and Stephanie are still single by the time the story ends. Ultimately all the characters’ changes in nature are mostly not going in the “right” direction (in connection with the Story Outcome of Failure). They’re not “changing enough” of themselves to solve the Overall Story Problem.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

Before getting married, Jack embarks on a week-long bachelor wine tasting trip to Santa Barbara County with his college friend Miles. Jack plans on sleeping around as much as he can in order to burn as much womanizing as possible out of his system. He hooks up with local women in wine country and engages Miles in his shenanigans. The two friends cover up Jack’s unfaithful deeds when they come home. Jack gets married but will likely continue his behavior and cheat on his new wife.

Overall Story Backstory

The story opens with the wedding planned and the cake chosen. Christine—Jack’s future wife—comes from a wealthy Armenian family that will likely handle the wedding financial costs. With Jack’s freedom on the line the stage is set for one last, desperate act of compulsive womanizing.

Main Character Throughline

Miles Raymond — Actor's divorced friend & college roommate

Main Character Throughline

A negative person in general, Miles has been in a state of depression for two years since his divorce from Victoria. His friend Jack calls him out on it constantly: “You’ve always been a negative guy, even back in college”, “What is this morose come-down bullshit?”, “I’m not gonna let you screw this up with your anxiety, depression, neg-head downer shit.”

Main Character Concern

Miles is concerned with squashing any impulsive response, except when it comes to drinking when things go awry. Aside from dulling his responses via these borderline alcoholic episodes—which don’t mix well with his anti-depressants and send him over to “the dark side”—Miles focuses on being unresponsive, whether it’s about a potential romance with Maya, inquiries regarding the publication of his book, or his ex-wife remarrying. Miles blocks out opportunities: “I haven’t been with anybody since my divorce”. When Maya expresses interest in spending an evening with him and Jack, Miles feigns exhaustion. Jack to Miles: “You’re wasting away. You’re blowing a great opportunity here with Maya.” When it’s time to “seize the moment,” Miles’s impulsive response is to block himself and let the moment pass—out of fear for what he expects to be undesirable consequences. Jack:  “You gotta strike while the iron’s hot!” Opportunities are quick to vanish.  Like wine, they peak, then decline.  Miles has a problem controlling the spontaneous response needed to grab these opportunities as they come.

Main Character Issue

Conflict arises for Miles because of his issues of self-worth. This low self-esteem leads him to incessantly expect rejection, be it romantically with Maya or professionally with his book. In his own words:  “The world doesn’t give a shit what I have to say. I’m unnecessary. I’m so insignificant I can’t even kill myself. Half my life is over, and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing.” And again, leaving a phone message to Maya: “You see, I’m not really much of a writer. I’m not really much of anything, really.” Even before that, Miles doesn’t want to consider that Maya might be interested in him. Miles has developed a fixed mindset about the general worth of romantic relationships in life: “Not worth it, you pay too big a price.” Miles to Jack (about him getting married): “I’m just saying you need to keep an eye out, that’s all.”

Miles’s ex-wife Victoria used to make him feel “very small” (i.e., “worthless”) which apparently led him to having an affair with a woman named Brenda. Miles places great worth on where Victoria and his previous marriage stand in his life today.

Finally, Miles attributes a very biased, low worth to opportunities in life as a whole, as illustrated by this exchange about his bottle of Cheval Blanc and which occasion would be suitable to drink it:
Maya: “You have a 61 Cheval Blanc?  What are you waiting for?”
Miles: “A special occasion with the right person.”
Maya:  “The day you open a Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion”.
It’s Maya’s way of saying there’s intrinsic worth in some moments in life with which Miles needs to reconnect with.

Main Character Counterpoint

For most of the story, Miles refrains from drinking his 1961 Cheval Blanc. When he finally does, he drinks it from a plastic cup in a fast-food restaurant. The lack of consideration for the circumstances and the manner to drink it highlight how Miles now looks at the bottle with a new understanding of its objective value: it’s not worth much to him anymore.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Worth vs.Value

Miles must balance out the personal worth he attributes to his previous marriage with Victoria against the actual value they now have in his life (he’s divorced, she no longer loves him, any hope of a future relationship between them is dead). He shouldn’t give her so much room anymore.

Main Character Problem

Jack: “Why do you always have to do this? Victoria is gone! Boof! In the wind!” Miles won’t let go of his ex-wife despite crumbling evidence there’s no hope left for them as a couple. While on a date with Maya, all Miles can think of is his ex-wife’s remarriage. He gets drunk and dials her in private. “I guess I thought maybe there was still a chance for us somewhere down the road.” She sends him a clear message again: “Maybe it’s better if you don’t come to Jack’s wedding.” His unending attitude toward his divorce sits at the root of his problem.

Miles has kept his 10th-year-anniversary celebration bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc since he and Victoria divorced. The bottle is a metaphor for letting go of his previous marriage and addressing his endless “waiting around”—to become proactive and rebuild a life for himself. In her speech about wine, Maya is indirectly telling Miles he needs to address his unending stasis and seize the opportunity while it lasts (before it peaks, like wine). When the moment is ripe for them to kiss, Miles perpetuates his same old attitude, doesn’t act and heads to the bathroom. When he kisses her moments later, the moment has passed and Maya leaves.

Miles hasn’t been with anyone in 2 years. In an unending state of loneliness, he incessantly tries to drown his problems in borderline alcoholism.  His unending bad attitude and lies also lie at the root of his problem.

Main Character Solution

As a non-Leap of Faith Main Character, Miles gradually ends the impulse to refuse opportunities, ends his feelings of low self-worth, and brings closure to his divorce. Miles to Maya: “Do you still want to read my novel?” This move proves critical as, without it, Maya would have left never having read the book and more than likely would not have called him back in the end.

After a day of wandering alone waiting for messages, Miles finally decides to bring an end to his behavior and look for Maya at the restaurant. Bringing closure to his reluctance for spontaneity, Miles seizes the opportunity to hook up with Maya.. Furthermore, Miles brings an end to his tendency to wait in regards to his book: “I can’t take it anymore, I gotta call Evelyn (his publishing agent).” He gathers the strength to end his lies by leaving a phone message to Maya, telling her his book isn’t getting published, and bringing to a close the unexpressed feelings he experienced for her from the first moment he ever saw her.

Miles’s most explicit “ending moment” is then sealed with him finally drinking his 1961 Cheval Blanc, a closure metaphor for his divorce.

The title of Miles’s book, “The Day After Yesterday” is another metaphor for ending a stasis and moving on with one’s life to seize “Today” (as Maya states). Miles describes the plot of the book as “the whole thing sort of devolves into a Robbe-Grillet mystery.” “The Day After Yesterday” tells the story of a guy taking care of his father after a stroke, paralleling Jack taking care of Miles after his divorce. Miles learns to follow the direction that his own book suggests as a solution (ending stasis) to resolve his personal angst.

The final scene in the movie features Miles ending his stasis for good and going on with his life.  He seizes the opportunity to drive to Maya’s house as soon as he gets her phone message and knocks at her door.

Main Character Symptom

Miles believes the root of his problem lies with incorrect determinations, especially when there is no direct evidence or facts to support them. A constant example is Jack’s restless determinations about anything related to Miles, whether it’s about his book: “That’s not gonna happen to you (becoming a failed writer). You’re gonna get it. You’re gonna get published. I can feel it”, or about Maya: “Maya is obviously into you. The rock doesn’t mean shit, she’s not married. She digs you Miles. Go for it.”

Main Character Response

In response to what he considers to be circumstantial determinations, Miles generates low expectations for and of himself professionally and romantically. He also creates low expectations about relationships in general. Miles to Jack about his wedding: “You gotta have your eyes out (in terms of relationship expectations), that’s all.” Jack (about potential with Maya): “You dick, why do you have to focus on the negative?” Same with his book. Miles:  “I’m not gonna get my hopes up. I’ve stopped caring. That’s it. I’ve stopped caring.” Jack criticizes Miles’s response of low expectations (about the potential of his book): “You haven’t’ heard anything yet, don’t you think your negativity is a little premature?” And about Maya: “A woman finds out how I live, that I’m not a published author, that I’m a liar essentially, any interest she has is gonna evaporate really quick.” When Maya puts her hand on his, it’s a clear determination that she is calling for physical intimacy. He responds by waiting around, essentially prolonging Maya’s wait as well. When Stephanie tells Miles he should call Maya, he sits around expecting a call from her instead.

These misplaced expectations carry over to his ‘61 Cheval Blanc. Maya: “It might be too late already. What are you waiting for?”
Miles dwells in expectation by “compulsively checking his messages” while waiting on Evelyn’s (his publishing agent) response regarding his book.  Same goes for a potential message from Maya he endlessly waits for. He responds by expecting (expectation) rather than making a move (ending). Stephanie to Miles: “Maya said she had a fun time last night.  You should call her.”  Miles doesn’t and waits around.

Main Character Unique Ability

Miles values deep, genuine, human connection above fake, easy and shallow relationships. Had he proven to Jack how valuable his relationship with Christine was, there’s a chance Jack would have given up the extra girls. When calling Maya to tell her the truth about his book, he’s driven to preserve the intrinsic value of their relationship. He’s doing exactly what he should have done earlier about concealing Jack’s wedding from the girls, only it’s too late. Miles let his critical flaw of fantasy overcome his unique ability of value.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Miles entertains the erroneous fantasy that maybe he can get back together with Victoria. He also holds the skewed conviction that a new relationship will only bring him more suffering and disappointment. Finally, he believes Maya cannot possibly be attracted to him. “As if she’d be attracted to me. You don’t know anything about this woman. She works for tips.” Jack:  “You’re blind.” The same goes with women in general, as stated in one of Miles’s comments regarding a diner waitress: “As if she’d be attracted to us…” Miles lives so much in a false fantasy of his own that at first he’s convinced that Maya is still married.

Main Character Benchmark

Miles growth is indicated by his progressive ability to fight his fears and by his desire or refusal to engage in a new romantic relationship. At first, Miles doesn’t want to act on his desires for Maya, he won’t even consider her. Then, he agrees to go on a date with her but his desires are still focused on his ex-wife. Finally, it progresses to the point where he considers his desires for her and acts on them. This is also illustrated by his desire, or lack thereof, to fight for a career as a writer.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

Miles, a middle-school English teacher, copes with depression following his divorce two years ago. A failed writer who appreciates and knows about wine, he drowns his sorrow in borderline alcoholism.

Main Character Backstory

Nursing a negative attitude since he was young, Miles suffers through a depression following his bitter divorce two years ago. His ex-wife Victoria made him feel small, leading him to strike up an affair with a woman named Brenda. Miles sees a shrink on a regular basis and is on Xanax and Lexapro (anti-depressants) which don’t mix well with his borderline alcoholism. His struggles with letting his wife go and his endless string of rejections as a writer driven him to avoid new romantic encounters. He is Jack’s college friend and will be his best man at the wedding.

Miles’s book, “The Day After Yesterday” is a novel loosely based on personal experience. It has generated interest from a small, specialized publishing company, but no deal has been made yet.

Miles regularly goes to wine country. He often stops to have dinner at “The Hitching Post”, Maya’s restaurant, where he met her for the first time. It is hinted at that they may have shared a couple of drinks in the past.

Miles and Victoria did spend time in wine country when they were married, as Miles remembers a picnic they shared at the time by the side of a road, enjoying the scenery.

Influence Character Throughline

Jack Cole

Influence Character Throughline
Influence Character Concern
Influence Character Issue
Influence Character Counterpoint

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Fantasy vs.Fact

Influence Character Problem
Influence Character Solution
Influence Character Symptom
Influence Character Response
Influence Character Unique Ability
Influence Character Critical Flaw
Influence Character Benchmark
More Influence Character Information →

Relationship Story Throughline


Relationship Story Throughline
Relationship Story Concern
Relationship Story Issue
Relationship Story Counterpoint

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Enlightenment vs.Wisdom

Relationship Story Problem
Relationship Story Solution
Relationship Story Symptom
Relationship Story Response
Relationship Story Catalyst
Relationship Story Inhibitor
Relationship Story Benchmark
Additional Relationship Story Information →

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

As protagonist, Jack wants to play the role of a loving husband. Unfortunately the only way he can get there is by sleeping around as much as he can before his wedding day. Miles to Jack (mid-point of the movie, after he sleeps with Stephanie):  “Glad you got that out of your system. Mission accomplished.” Of course, it turns out it’s far from accomplished.

Overall Story Consequence

Jack fails to burn womanizing out of his system. As a result, the Consequence comes into effect: Jack will keep playing the field regardless of the vows he’s taken, perpetuating a fundamentally harmful and destructive activity.

Overall Story Cost

The quality of Miles and Jack’s friendship deteriorates as Jack keeps pursuing his desire to get laid and leaving Miles by the side of the road. Jack and Christine’s relationship deteriorates as evidenced by her voicemails. Miles and Maya’s relationship deteriorates because of Jack’s plans. When she learns about Jack’s shenanigans, he gets a phone call. While it turns out benign (it’s from Christine), Miles’s fear of the call foreshadows the cost of Stephanie learning about it later, deteriorating yet another relationship. Jack’s breaks his nose, adding physical injury to the bill.

Overall Story Dividend

Miles starts to free himself from the impulse to block out romantic possibilities and regains his spontaneity. Miles and Maya grow to indulge themselves with an impulsive romantic connection, while Jack and Stephanie indulge more in their sexual urges.

Overall Story Requirements

Jack must change his nature by burning the womanizing out of his system in order to play the role of a loving husband.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Jack believes he needs to sleep with as many as women as possible in order to burn the womanizing out of his system. He needs to “obtain” more women.

Overall Story Preconditions

Jack’s engagement to Christine and upcoming wedding ceremony feel imposed upon Jack and play against his efforts to lie and sleep around.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Jack’s inability to overcome his innermost desire of pursuing women hints at the fact that he will keep playing the field after his vows. Miles’s inability to overcome his fear of painful rejections and his desire to feel loved prevent him from exposing Jack’s plan as a fraud. It also leads him to avoid confront Jack about his womanizing.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

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Main Character

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Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1
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Influence Character Signpost 4

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1
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Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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