When Harry Met Sally

Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for When Harry Met Sally. 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.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Harry changes his outlook on men and women’s relationships when he realizes people of the opposite sex can be friends as well as lovers.

Main Character Growth

Harry’s loneliness increases when he fails to make the obvious decision to become romantically involved with his best (girl) friend. It is once he comprehends his friendship with her does not have to be exclusive of an intimate relationship, he can start living a fulfilling life, “And I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 120).

Main Character Approach

Harry’s first approach to dealing with a problem is to work it out externally. When his wife asks for a divorce, instead of accepting her reasons he secretly follows her to determine what she has really been up to; when he unexpectedly runs into his wife at a later date, instead of bottling up his hurt and resentment for a more appropriate time he lets out his anguish at what is supposed to be a friendly house warming for Jess and Marie:
Sally:  Harry, I know you’re upset, but do we have to talk about this right now?
Harry:  What’s wrong with right now? It’s a perfect time to talk about this. I just want them to see. (he’s becoming more and more upset) I just want them to see the realities of what this leads to. Everything’s fine, everybody’s in love, everybody’s happy—and before you know it, you’re screaming at each other about who owns the stereo. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 78)

Main Character Mental Sex

Harry does not need to be fulfilled mentally when seeking a solution to a problem. He needs only to be satisfied.

Story Driver

Harry and Sally decide to share a ride to New York; Helen decides to leave Harry; Sally decides she wants more out of the relationship with Joe than he is willing to give; Jess and Marie decide they like each other better than their blind dates; and so forth.

Story Limit

Harry must go through a certain number of empty relationships before realizing Sally is “the one.”

Story Outcome

Sally and Harry marry.

Story Judgment

Harry listens to his heart, not his head, and marries his best friend.

Overall Story Throughline

""Pairing Up""

Overall Story Throughline

When Harry Met Sally… explores the different viewpoints men and women hold regarding the opposite sex, and examines the rules and regulations that can govern these relationships.

Overall Story Concern

Most everyone in the Objective Story is concerned with finding the kind of love that will last for the rest of their lives. Serving as a Greek chorus, the documentary couples relay their love stories, while the Objective Characters search for Mr. or Ms. Right.

Overall Story Issue

When Harry Met Sally…starts off with a future full of hope for Harry and Sally symbolized by their graduation from college. Sally is moving to New York in hopes of an exciting life as a reporter after she attends journalism school, and Harry hopes to find use for his law degree other than becoming a lawyer; one of the women of the documentary couples hopes her man will come to his senses and re-marry her; and so on. Throughout the story the Objective Characters are optimistic in their anticipation of finding love and happiness with the right person.

Overall Story Counterpoint

As an example of how “dream” is explored in the Objective Story, it is pointed out several times that it is highly unlikely that Marie’s desire for her married lover to leave his wife for her will ever be fulfilled.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Hope vs.Dream

The thematic conflict expressed in When Harry Met Sally…is the reasonableness of hoping for a romantic, albeit flawed, relationship, as opposed to the dream of a fairy tale romance.

Overall Story Problem

The way the Objective Characters use logic causes problems for them. For example, Marie doesn’t use rational thinking to stop carrying on a dead end affair with a married man. Even though she understands logically he will never leave his wife for her, she unhappily continues on with it:
Marie:  He’s never going to leave her.
Sally:  Of course he isn’t.
Marie:  You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman 1988, pp. 67-68)
Jess’ negative reasoning sets him up not to enjoy his blind date with Sally:
Jess:  So you’re saying she not that attractive?
Harry:  No, I told you she is attractive.
Jess:  But you also said she had a good personality.
Harry:  She does have a good personality.
Jess:  When someone’s not that attractive, they’re always described as having a good personality. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 69)

Overall Story Solution

As an example of how emotional sensibility solves the problem of logical reasoning, once Marie allows herself to be fulfilled by a man who loves her, she achieves happiness and contentment.
Marie:  Tell me I’ll never have to be out there again.
Jess:  You’ll never have to be out there again. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 102)

Overall Story Symptom

Harry leaves behind his college sweetheart, Amanda, for New York which leaves their relationship open to the inevitable break up; Marie has no control over her married lover and their relationship; and so forth.

Overall Story Response

Amanda attempts to retain some control over Harry by asking him to regularly telephone:
Amanda:  Call me.
Harry:  I’ll call as soon as I get there.
Amanda:  Call me from the road.
Harry:  I’ll call before that. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 2)
Jess tries to conduct himself as a man who doesn’t need a partner to make him whole, “You know I’ve finally gotten to a place in my life where I’m comfortable with the fact it’s just me and my work” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 68).

Overall Story Catalyst

As with the other Objective Characters, Jess and Marie share the same desire to settle down with a loved one, however, neither expects this to happen as Jess is content to live on his own and Marie is willing to continue on with her married lover. Their falling in love with each other is a happy surprise for the two of them and their friends. This new relationship moves the Objective Story forward as it puts pressure on the other single Objective Characters to commit to their own relationships.

Overall Story Inhibitor

Marie and Jess live together for a time, postponing their decision to get married and live happily ever after, thus delaying the pressure put on other Objective Characters to make their own commitments.

Overall Story Benchmark

As an example of how the Objective Characters use “memory” to measure their progress toward the goal, Marie remembers a clever witticism in a magazine, of which Jess is the author; At Jess and Marie’s wedding, Jess recalls how neither he nor Marie were attracted to Sally or Harry on their double blind date, leaving Harry and Sally free to progress further toward finding each other; and so forth.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

One reviewer describes the Objective Story as:
This story of cautious but eventual union, which begins at the University of Chicago but spends most of its time in Manhattan, is interlarded with choric sequences by six elderly couples…Beginning with the very start of the picture and occurring throughout, we see the old married folks, one pair at a time, telling us how they met and married and were happy. All but one of the couples met and married young and have lived long together. They contrast of course with the central story. The old folks represent a time when “commitment” was not a dirty word. We all know that marriage doesn’t always work out as cheerily as it did with these couples but Ephron is giving us attitudes, not statistics. And, naturally, the last shot of the film is Ryan and Crystal sitting together…telling us about it. They’ve joined the throng. (Kauffmann, 1989, p. 27)

Overall Story Backstory

In When Harry Met Sally…, the importance of finding and settling down with a mate is established. The Objective Characters subscribe to the logic that marriage will ward off loneliness, a ticking biological clock, and the humiliation that comes with being single in a society that caters to couples:
Marie: (horrified) But you were a couple. You were together. You had someone to go places with. You had a date on national holidays. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 20)

Main Character Throughline

Harry — Sally's best male friend

Main Character Throughline

During the course of the story, all the while discussing his conflicts, Harry is active.  He participates in “the wave” at a football game while confessing his troubles to Jess; power walks; practices his swing at the batting cages; and so forth.

Main Character Concern

Harry is concerned with losing his wife, keeping the apartment, dating many women, and finally, having Sally as his wife.

Main Character Issue

Harry’s style is to confront issues head on. He is not always tactful, but he is always honest.

Main Character Counterpoint

Harry’s attitude when confronting an issue is to blurt out what he is thinking or feeling and “let the chips fall where they may.”

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Approach vs.Attitude

Harry is most sensitive to the thematic concerns of approach vs. attitude, especially in the area of male and female relationships. As an example, after his chance encounter with his ex-wife he tries to convince Jess and Marie (who have just moved in with each other) to prepare for a possible break up:
Harry:  (shouting now) I mean it. Put your name in your books. Now, while you’re unpacking them, before they get all mixed up together and you can’t remember whose is whose. Because someday, believe it or not, you’re going to be fighting over who’s going to get this coffee table, this stupid wagon wheel coffee table. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 79)

Main Character Problem

Harry’s reasoning that men and women cannot be both friends and lovers causes problems for him. His wife, who he loved, but married because he was tired of “the whole life-of-a-single-guy thing” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 25) leaves him, and his true best friend gives up on him after he explains to her their night of lovemaking was a mistake, “I’m not saying it didn’t mean anything, I’m just saying why does it have to mean everything (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 106).

Main Character Solution

Once Harry listens to his heart and not his head, he is able to seek emotional fulfillment.

Main Character Symptom

After further deliberating a statement regarding male and female relationships he had made five years ago, Harry comes to the same conclusion.
Sally:  I thought you didn’t believe men and women could be friends.
Harry:  When did I say that?
Sally:  On the ride to New York.
Harry:  ...Yes. That’s right. They can’t be friends…(figuring this out)...unless both of them are involved with other people. Then they can. This is an amendment to the earlier rule. ..although that doesn’t work either. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 27)

Main Character Response

Despite Harry’s reconsideration of his stand on men and women friendships, he continues to ponder the question throughout the story until he makes his leap of faith.

Main Character Unique Ability

Once Harry puts Sally’s needs before his own, they are able to make the final step from friendship to marriage.

Main Character Critical Flaw

As long as Harry is dedicated to the logic he uses in relationships with women, he undermines his ability to be truly happy.

Main Character Benchmark

As Harry comes to understand how a man can be friends and lovers with a woman, (specifically Sally) he comes to terms with his failed first marriage, and appreciates his fleeting relationships with other women as meaningless.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

thirty something, slightly neurotic, short, dark curly hair, witty

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Harry follows the logical steps of college, law school, career, and marriage. When his wife leaves him, he cruises through love-em and leave-em one-night stands while he slowly develops a truly intimate relationship with his best (girl) friend.

Main Character Backstory

Harry has always been a logical person, and up until meeting Sally, his logic has always worked for him, especially in the area of romance:
Sally:  Amanda mentioned you had a dark side.
Harry:  (pleased with himself) That’s what drew her to me…when I get a new book, I read the last page first. That way, if I die before I finish I know how it comes out…
Sally:  (irritated now) It doesn’t mean you’re deep or anything. (Ephron, Reiner, Scheinman, 1988, p. 5)

Influence Character Throughline

Sally — Harry's best female friend

Influence Character Throughline

Sally takes the thought process very seriously. She uses her deliberate way of thinking to handle everything from heartache to everyday, practical matters:
I have this all figured out. It’s an eighteen hour trip, which breaks down to six shifts of three hours each. Or, alternatively, we could break it down by mileage. There’s a map on the visor, I’ve marked it to show the locations where we can change shifts. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 3)

Influence Character Concern

As a young women, Sally is truly intent upon transforming her nature. She explains why she is moving to New York after graduating from the University of Chicago, “...nothing’s happened to me yet…I’m going to go to journalism school and become a reporter” (Ephron, Reiner, Scheinman, 1988, p. 40.) Once in her thirties, Sally is concerned with becoming an old maid.

Influence Character Issue

Throughout the story, Sally rationalizes her break up with Joe, “I just said to myself, you deserve more than this…I’ve had a few days to get used to it and I feel okay” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 3).

Influence Character Counterpoint

As an example of how obligation is explored by Sally, she sticks out her relationship with Joe, thinking they will live a romantic fantasy life, although this never happens.

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Rationalization vs.Obligation

Sally is able to extricate herself from situations or people where she feels an obligation, but she has a much harder time identifying the real reason why she acts as she does. Sally is able to justify to herself for quite a long time why she and Joe need not marry. She accepts the state of living together in hopes of enjoying all the benefits that come with that kind of independence, until one day she is jolted out of this dream world and realizes a husband and children is exactly what she has wanted all along:
When Joe and I started seeing each other, we wanted exactly the same thing, we wanted to live together but we weren’t going to get married because every time everyone we knew got married it ruined their relationship…(we would) say, we’re so lucky, we have this wonderful relationship, we can fly off to Rome on a moment’s notice, and then one day I was taking Alice’s little girl for the afternoon—and she looked out the window and there was this man and this woman with two little kids…and Alice’s little girl said, “I spy a family,” and I started to cry…and I went home, and I said, the thing is Joe, we never do fly off to Rome on a moment’s notice…Anyway, we talked about it for a long time, and I said, this is what I want, and he said, well I don’t, and I said, I guess it’s over and he left…(Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 42)

Influence Character Problem

Sally strictly adheres to her own code of propriety. As an example, when Harry offers Sally a grape she refuses, informing him she never eats between meals. Sally foregoes marriage to Joe to avoid certain future consequences such as a non-existent sex life, “...every time everyone we knew got married, it ruined their relationship, they practically never had sex again” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 41)

Influence Character Solution

As Harry comforts Sally, she falls to the temptation of kissing him (and later, making love) thereby taking a chance on losing their friendship.

Influence Character Symptom

Sally focuses on Harry’s rampant sexual behavior, “Harry, you’re gonna have to move back to New Jersey because you’ve slept with everybody in New York” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1998, p.81).

Influence Character Response

Sally attempts to control all aspects of her life, even when ordering dessert, which drives Harry crazy:
Sally:  You know what I’d like is the apple pie a la mode…But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of the can then nothing.
Waitress:  Not even the pie?
Sally:  No, just the pie. But then not heated.
As the waitress leaves, Harry stares in disbelief at Sally. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 9)

Influence Character Unique Ability

Sally is best suited to show Harry how men and women can be both friends and lovers.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Sally takes certain measures to protect herself from hurt. Although she thinks this strategy is the best thing for her, she is undermining her chance at happiness:
Sally:  I’ve experienced my loss. I’ve had my mourning period. I’m done with it.
Harry:  What mourning period? One hour in Bloomingdale’s. You bought a pocketbook and heartbreak flew right out the window.  If you’re so over Joe why haven’t you been seeing anyone? (Ephron, Reiner, Scheinman, 1988, pp. 80-81)

Influence Character Benchmark

The more clearly Sally visualizes a life without a husband and family, the more she is concerned with becoming old and alone.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

Slim, blond, pretty, particular in what she wants and how she acts

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Sally is precise individual. She neatly organizes her environment and emotions. It is when she comes up against Harry that she finally learns to let her proverbial hair down.

Influence Character Backstory

Because it is a behavior she would never participate in, Sally opposes the way Harry treats women when he uses them without any intention of developing a meaningful relationship:
Harry:  Why are you getting so upset? This isn’t about you.
Sally:  Yes it is. You’re a human affront to all women. And I’m a woman. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 58)
It would be interesting, however, to see if she still felt the same way if she were to ever fall to the temptation of engaging in sex without love.

Relationship Story Throughline

""Can Best Friends Marry and Live Happily Ever After?""

Relationship Story Throughline

Harry and Sally’s off and on chance meetings are the circumstances under which their relationship develops.

Relationship Story Concern

The greatest source of concern between Harry and Sally is what will happen to the future of their friendship if they become lovers.

Relationship Story Issue

Harry and Sally prolong their inevitable falling in love.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

After Harry and Sally’s first meeting, they choose not to see each other again. The second time they run into each other, Harry invites Sally to dinner; Sally decides against it. It is not until their third encounter that they decide to try out friendship.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Delay vs.Choice

After several starts and stops over the course of many years, Harry and Sally fall in love and marry. The prolonged friendship and eventual courtship was important for making the decision to marry, as it took a long time for Harry to grow and change. As Harry tells Sally when he proposes, “It took me eleven years to figure this out.” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p.120)

Relationship Story Problem

Each attempts to help the other find a new love, when it is really the two of them that need to get together. Sally asks Harry, “Do you think the fact that we’re friends is keeping us from finding someone?” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 127)
Sally:  You know, Harry, you should get out there too.
Harry:  No, no, I’m not ready.
Sally:  It’s time.
Harry:  No I can’t, I can’t.
Sally:  You should.
Harry:  Maybe I will. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 50-51)

Relationship Story Solution

Sally obstructs Harry’s efforts to restore their friendship, “Obviously, she doesn’t want to talk to me. What, do I have to be hit over the head? If she wants to call me, she’ll call me. I’m through making a schmuck out of myself” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 109).  By her doing so, Harry finally comes to realize he not only loves her as a friend, but she is the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with.

Relationship Story Symptom

Each focuses on what they believe is a severe character flaw of the other’s, especially one that negatively impacts their relationship. Harry thinks Sally holding in her hurt and anger is detrimental to her healing process; Sally is sure Harry’s expression of emotion is self-indulgent.

Relationship Story Response

The direction Sally and Harry take in dealing with the difficulties that come from Sally’s restraint and Harry’s unchecked emotions is to try to guide the other to what they each thinks is the better way to be:
Sally: Harry, you have to find a way of not expressing every feeling you have every moment you have them.
Harry:  Oh, really?
Sally:  Yes. There are times and places for things.
Harry:  Well, when you’re giving your next lecture series in social graces, let me know. I’ll sign up.
Sally:  You don’t have to get angry about it.
Harry:  I think I’m entitled to a little anger when I’m being told how to live my life by Miss Hospital Corners.
Sally:  You’re about to cross the line Harry.
Harry:  So what? Is that the end of the world? Crossing the line? You know what your problem is? You stand too far behind the line. I don’t even think you can see the line from where you’re standing.
Sally:  ...I don’t have to take this from you. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 80-81)
Sally…proceeds to place the mail in the box, one letter at a time, checking to see that each letter has safely entered the box. Harry stands impatiently waiting. Harry’s impatience with Sally’s letter mailing has gotten the best of him. He impulsively grabs the remaining letters in her hand, opens the box, shoves them in then hustles her off. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 45-46)

Relationship Story Catalyst

Once Harry and Sally choose to become friends, their relationship quickly moves forward in a positive direction.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Immediately after lovemaking, Sally is optimistic that she and Harry’s relationship has promise for a greater degree of intimacy. Harry’s reaction to Sally’s expectations is panic and he spends the next three weeks avoiding her, slowing the growth of their relationship.

Relationship Story Benchmark

Harry and Sally share their past with the documentary camera, explaining how over time their relationship has grown:
Harry:  The first time we met we hated each other.
Sally:  You didn’t hate me, I hated you. The second time we met he didn’t even remember me.
Harry:  I did too, I remembered you. The third time we met we became friends.
Sally:  We were friends for a long time.
Harry:  And then we weren’t.
Sally:  And then we fell in love. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 121-122)

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

The Subjective Story throughline is described by one reviewer as:
In the New York romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally…director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron are wrestling with an old but pertinent question:  does sex make it impossible for men and women to be true friends? They chronicle this dilemma through the 11-year relationship of Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), who meet at college in 1977, go off to pursue their own lives and reconnect 10 years later…These two self conscious Yuppies are both looking for romance but they refuse to consider each other as plausible partners. Becoming bosom buddies, they delicately dance around the sexual attraction that draws them to each other but which they fear would destroy their cozy Platonic camaraderie. (Ansen, 1989, p. 52)

Relationship Story Backstory

Harry has a history of sexual relationships with women that may have included love (his marriage), and more likely, lust, but definitely not friendship. Sally’s (few) sexual relationships were always based on love and, and it is her belief, friendship.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

The goal common to all the Objective Characters is a romance between Harry and Sally “We’ve been praying for it…you belong together” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 98).

Overall Story Consequence

If Harry and Sally don’t get together, they are doomed to the bleak prospect of life without true love.

Overall Story Cost

Harry becomes divorced; Sally is concerned about turning forty; the cost for Jess to become part of a couple is to leave behind certain pieces of his beloved bachelor furniture:
Marie points to a large wagon wheel that’s been made into a coffee table with a round plate glass over it…
Marie:  It’s so awful that there is no way to begin to explain what is so awful about it.
Jess:  I don’t object to any of your things—
Marie:  Look, if we had an extra room, you could put it in there with all your things including your bar stools and I would never have to see it. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 77)

Overall Story Dividend

Jess and Marie achieve marital bliss; after each of their break ups, Harry and Sally get to keep their respective apartments; and so forth.

Overall Story Requirements

Harry must remember Sally when he runs into her five years after their first meeting, and five years after that:
Sally:  ...he never remembers me.
Harry:  Sally Albright—(Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 39)

Overall Story Prerequisites

In order for Harry to remember Sally when they meet by chance, they must have shared a former time together. In this case, Harry and Sally’s past is created in an eighteen hour car ride from Chicago to New York. After extensive discussions and debates concerning such weighty matters as love, death, friendship, and betrayal, they have learned enough about each other to make each one memorable to the other.

Overall Story Preconditions

Although Harry may have been able to recall how he knew Sally in the past for several reasons, it was his suggestion that he and Sally sleep together during their trip from Chicago to New York, “So, you want to spend the night in the motel” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 13) and her subsequent rejection of him that makes it easiest for him to remember her five years later.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Jess explains to Harry what he thinks Harry is doing by not allowing himself to fall in love with Sally, which basically is sabotaging his chance at happiness:
Jess:  I don’t understand this relationship.
Harry:  What do you mean?
Jess:  You enjoy being with her?
Harry:  Yes.
Jess:  You find her attractive?
Harry:  Yes.
Jess:  And you’re not sleeping with her.
Harry: No.
Jess:  You’re afraid to let yourself be happy. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 52-53)

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

Joe contemplates Sally’s remark about Harry coming on to her; one man does not consider marring any other woman after he sees a certain girl walk into the Horn and Hardart Cafeteria, “...this girl walked in—(He points to the woman beside him)—and I turned to Arthur and I said, ‘Arthur, you see that girl? I’m going to marry her.’ And two weeks later we were married. And it’s 50 years later and we’re still married.” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 1); and so forth.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Conscious to Memory

The Objective Story progresses from characters contemplating relationships between men and women, to memories of personal experiences.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Marie encourages Sally not to wait too long to begin dating explaining, “Do you remember David Warsaw? His wife left him, and everyone said, give him some time, don’t move in too fast, and six months later he was dead” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 33); in a conversation with Jess, Harry recalls why Helen left him; several of the documentary couples remember what their loved ones were wearing when they first met; and so forth.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Memory to Preconscious

Emphasis moves from the Objective Characters’ recollections of their romantic relationships to the impulses that drive them.

Overall Story Signpost 3

Team players unthinkingly shout out answers during a game of Win, Lose, or Draw at Jess and Marie’s party, “Big Mouth, baby mouth, big baby mouth, Martha Raye as a baby. Baby teeth, baby spittle, spit on a baby, baby burp, burp the baby” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 84); Sally simulates an orgasm to prove to Harry that the ecstatic sexual impulses women have that he thinks he is responsible for, can be faked; Harry boasts to Jess how women respond sexually to him:
Harry:  ...the other night I made love to a woman and it was so incredible, I took her to a place that wasn’t human. She actually meowed.
Jess:  You made a woman meow? (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 56)

Overall Story Journey 3 from Preconscious to Subconscious

Emphasis move from the unthinking responses of sexual love, to the deeper meaning of love-its drives and desires.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Harry lets his anger loose after running into his ex-wife; Sally is in tears at the news of Joe’s engagement, “The truth is he didn’t want to get married to me. He didn’t love me” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, p. 89); Marie is happy she is no longer alone and lonely; the New Years’ Eve party epitomizes everyone’s wish to be with “that special someone” and so forth.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Harry takes the fact that Sally has only had two lovers to mean she has not had great sex; he thinks he has a good appreciation of how men’s and women’s relationships work; and so forth.

Main Character Journey 1 from Understanding to Doing

Harry begins to appreciate he can be friends with a woman without sex as the focal point, and develops a platonic relationship with Sally. “A woman friend. This is amazing. You may be the first attractive woman I have not wanted to sleep with in my entire life” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 44).

Main Character Signpost 2

Harry follows his wife; redecorates his apartment; shops for books on “personal growth” and so forth.

Main Character Journey 2 from Doing to Learning

Harry goes through the painful process of divorce, and eventually learns to accept his new status as a single man.

Main Character Signpost 3

Harry is concerned with “getting out there” in the dating scene.

Main Character Journey 3 from Learning to Obtaining

Once Harry goes through the process of learning what it is like to have many meaningless one night stands versus a meaningful relationship with one woman, he is ready to achieve the state of marital bliss.

Main Character Signpost 4

Harry is concerned with regaining his friendship with Sally, then making her his wife.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

Sally comes up with practical ways for her and Harry to share the driving for their trip to New York; and so forth.

influence Character Journey 1 from Conceptualizing to Becoming

At the beginning of Act 1, Sally cannot envision how she could be friends with someone she has fundamental differences with. By Act 2, she is willing to accept someone’s differences for the sake of friendship:
Sally:  Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?
Harry:  Are we becoming friends now?
Sally:  Well, I…(accepting their new status) I guess we could. (Ephron, Reiner, Scheinman, 1988, pp. 43-44)

Influence Character Signpost 2

Sally is not concerned with becoming part of a couple immediately after her break-up with Joe, “Look, there is no point in my going out with someone I might really like if I met him at the right time but who right now has no chance of being anything to me but a transitional man” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 33).

Influence Character Journey 2 from Becoming to Being

Sally becomes single and sets out to be independent of a romantic relationship.

Influence Character Signpost 3

Sally claims to be happy that she has never been Harry’s girlfriend:
Sally:  I am so glad I never got involved with you. I just would have ended up being some lady you had to get out of bed and leave at three in the morning and go clean your andirons. And you don’t even have a fireplace. (quite irritated now) Not that I would know this. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 58)

Influence Character Journey 3 from Being to Conceiving

Sally tires of being lonely, and is especially upset at the idea of her ex-boyfriend marrying.

Influence Character Signpost 4

Sally cannot handle the idea of Joe getting married; and so forth.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

How matters stand between Harry and Sally are established during their first meeting, (Harry:  You realize, of course, we can never be friends…) and reestablished at their chance encounter five years later:
Harry:  ...men and women can’t be friends, where does that leave us?
Sally:  Harry—
Harry:  Yes, Sally—
Sally:  Goodbye. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 14, 27-28)

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Present to PastThe animosity that develops between Harry and Sally in their initial meetings is put in the past when they decide to become friends.
Relationship Story Signpost 2

Harry and Sally disagree about what has already happened:
Harry:  When we first met, I really didn’t like you that much—
Sally:  I didn’t like you.
Harry:  You did, too. You were just so up tight. Now you’re much softer.
Sally:  ...I just didn’t want to sleep with you, so you had to write it off as a character flaw. (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, pp. 42-43)

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Past to Progress

Harry and Sally compare their past romantic relationships and help each other move onward to new romances.

Relationship Story Signpost 3

After Sally and Harry exchange horror stories of their dates with other people, Sally remarks, “It might be months before we’re actually able to enjoy going out with someone new…and maybe even longer before we’ll be able to go to bed with someone new” (Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman, 1988, p. 53). They conflict when Harry reports that, although he had a horrid time, he still slept with his date.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Progress to Future

Harry and Sally move from being “just friends” to a happily married couple.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

The future of Harry and Sally’s friendship is jeopardized when they sleep together.

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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