Working on your script? Feeling lonely? Trying to get out of the friend zone? You came to the right place. Today we break down the Oscar-nominated When Harry Met Sally script, and it’s a good one. From long monologues to sharp ping-pong dialogue, pure disdain to pure desire, let’s see how screenwriter Nora Ephron yo-yos our emotions in one of the best romantic comedies of all time.

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WHO WROTE when harry met sally SCRIPT?

Written by Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron, with contributions made by star Billy Crystal, director Rob Reiner, and producer Andrew Scheinman.

Ephron is the sole credited writer of the When Harry Met Sally script on IMDB.

So, who is Nora Ephron? Perhaps the queen of the rom-com, Ephron wrote When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and You’ve Got Mail (1998).

Originally a reporter at the Washington Post, Ephron broke onto the scene with Silkwood (1983), an expose drama directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Street and Jack Nicholson. 

Given her reporter background, it was a natural first step, but we all know Ephron for romance and comedy. After the success of her When Harry Met Sally screenplay, Ephron got in the director's chair from 1992 - 2009 and wrote and directed 8 films.

Ephron has been nominated for Best Screenplay 3 times (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle).

STORY BREAKDOWN

STRUCTURE OF THE When Harry Met Sally SCREENPLAY

Exposition

Harry and Sally drive to New York together even though they’ve never met. Harry is blunt and casual, Sally is organized and proper. They don’t particularly get along. Early on, Harry establishes his belief that men and women cannot be friends.

Inciting Incident

There isn’t a clear inciting incident, the plot really begins the 3rd time Harry and Sally met, at a bookstore (p 38). Harry and Sally are fresh off break-ups. You could say the break-ups are the incident, but those occur off-screen.

Plot Point One

Harry and Sally become friends (p 43):

Sally: “Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?”

Harry: “Are we becoming friends now.”

Rising Action

Harry and Sally are friends. They talk on the phone, go to museums, talk about former relationships and dating lives. Getting closer and closer.

Midpoint

The New Year’s Eve Kiss (p 65).

Harry: “Yes. I think we should stop being friends, go home right now, and make love.”

Sally: “You don’t mean that. You know you don’t.

From here on (if it wasn’t already) it’s clear they will end up together. The stakes have been raised.

Plot Point Two

Harry runs into his ex-wife (p 75), but an even bigger moment hits when Harry and Sally have sex (p 91). Once they have sex, the story changes.

Build Up

After having sex, things get weird. Harry and Sally stop seeing each other. There’s a huge fight at Jess and Marie’s wedding.

Climax

New Year’s Eve. Harry confesses his love to Sally (p 119). One year after the midpoint, they kiss again, this time for real.

Finale

Old Harry and Sally on the couch, retelling their love story.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY SCRIPT TAKEAWAY #1

The script's amazing dialogue

Dialogue dominates the When Harry Met Sally screenplay. After some brief kissing, the opening sequence is 17 pages. 17 pages, 2 characters, one car, and one diner. The only way that can work is with great dialogue, and it’s my favorite part of the film.

How does Ephron follow this 17-page sequence? With a 10-page airport sequence. Again, all dialogue. Again, basically all between two people.

Before you know it, it’s page 30, and you're thinking “I bet this would be a pretty good play.” So it’s no surprise that it was adapted into one in 2004.

Let's look at the airport scene a little deeper:

Pitch perfect dialogue in the When Harry Met Sally script

Harry likes to ramble. Boy, does he ramble. The When Harry Met Sally screenplay is peppered with these all-knowing monologues. And during these monologues, there’s practically nothing else for the audience to focus on. It’s all about the dialogue. To show you, we’ve imported the script into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software.

When Harry Met Sally Quotes  •  Read Full Scene

It’s not a matter of opinion. Empirically, it’s a long monologue! This When Harry Met Sally sequence is 4 pages and we have very little action/scene description. There are pages of uninterrupted dialogue.

I encourage you to watch the video above and follow along with the script. You’ll see how little screen description there is and how well the dialogue flows.

A lot of dialogue doesn’t always mean good dialogue, but Ephron’s is punchy, snappy, repetitive (in a clever way). And it's very true to its characters.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY SCRIPT TAKEAWAY #2

When Harry Met Sally quotes

It’s not exactly causation, but it’s not far off — good dialogue breeds good quotes, and the When Harry Met Sally screenplay has some great ones.

Here are some of my favorite When Harry Met Sally quotes:

  • Jess: Marriages don't break up on account of infidelity. It's just a symptom that something else is wrong.
  • Harry Burns: Oh really? Well, that "symptom" is fucking my wife.


  • Marie: Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn't possibly all have good taste.


  • Older Woman: I’ll have what she’s having


  • Harry Burns: It is so nice when you can sit with someone and not have to talk.


  • Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
  • Sally Albright: Which one am I?
  • Harry Burns: You're the worst kind; you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance.


  • Marie: But you were a couple. You were together. You had someone to go places with. You had a date on national holidays.

When Harry Met Sally Script Takeaway #3

When Harry Met Sally characters

Harry and Sally dominate the screen. There are basically 4 characters in the movie, but the vast majority is spent with just Harry and Sally.

By the end, we feel like we know these people, and we certainly know they belong together. Yet, Ephron accomplishes this familiarity without talking much about jobs, family, or their past.

When Harry is with his friend Jess, or Sally with her friend Marie, all they talk about is relationships. So what do Harry and Sally talk about together?

When Harry Met Sally Restaurant Scene

The iconic When Harry Met Sally restaurant scene is a perfect microcosm of their discussions together. It’s almost always about sex and relationships.  

Did You Know?

The infamous “I’ll have what she’s having” line was suggested by Billy Crystal and the fake orgasm was Meg Ryan’s idea.

The restaurant the scene was filmed at (Katz Deli) has a plaque on Meg Ryan’s table stating “Where Harry met Sally… hope you had what she had.”

The quote, “I’ll have what she’s having,” ranked 33rd on the American Film Institute's 100 greatest movie quotes of all time. 

Occasionally they talk about Casablanca (one of the best scripts of all time), but then it’s about the sex and relationships within the Casablanca script. It’s a true testament to Ephron that the When Harry Met Sally screenplay is as fun and engaging as it is despite such limited scope.

But it is precisely those limitations that invest us in Harry and Sally. Yes, they are opposites in many ways, but we desperately want them to be together. The story wouldn’t work in nearly the same way if we didn’t like these characters, and they hadn’t felt so real.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY SCRIPT TAKEAWAY #4

Will they or won't they?

The friends debate. Can men and women be friends? It’s the most memorable scene in the movie, it’s in the logline, and it happens early. 

How Harry met Sally

I know what I said earlier, but beat-by-beat, the When Harry Met Sally plot is:

  1. Harry is adamant that men and women can’t be friends, Sally isn’t convinced. They won't.
  2. They run into each other again. Harry asks her to dinner as “friends.” Sally calls him out on his contradiction. They definitely still aren’t friends. They won't.
  3. They run into each other again. This time Sally asks him to dinner (not necessarily as friends) but he assumes it’s an offer of friendship. They will.
  4. They become friends. Very good friends. They won't.
  5. The idea of a relationship crosses their minds. They will.
  6. They end up having sex. They will.
  7. Things get weird, they are no longer friends. They won't.
  8. They end up together. They do. 


Not quite a see-saw, but not far off. Everyone wants them together (the audience included) and Harry and Sally fight the urge far longer than they should. To see how Nora Ephron framed this uncertainty in the script, check out these two excerpts:

"Can We Become Friends" Scene  •  Read Full Scene

It’s interesting because Sally would never ask Harry to dinner as a friend. In her mind, Harry doesn’t think they could be friends. So this is a come on.

But Harry doesn’t know this, and Sally has rejected him a few times, so he plays it safe with a “are we becoming friends now.” This line changes the movie. Had Harry said, “I’d love to.” It escalates things far too quickly.

Uncertainty and small awkward moments continue throughout the movie. This one is even worse:

When Harry Met Sally Ending  •  Read Full Scene

Sally asks a question. It’s a half-serious question. Harry answers it bluntly, but jokingly. And right after this interaction, they’re forced into a New Year’s kiss. Ephron is playing will they won't they to perfection.

The only misstep is the title: “When Harry Met Sally” It’s a dead give away,

Did You Know?

The title of the film was constantly changing. The original title was Scenes From a Friendship, then, How They Met, and there was apparently a title-naming contest held in the middle of production.

Workshopped titles included Boy Meets Girl, Words of Love, Just Friends, and Harry, This Is Sally. 

Still, pages 1-91 we wait for them to have sex. And from pages 91-119 is seems like the sex ruined everything. It’s a simple concept, it’s a concept we’re very familiar with, but it’s pulled off to perfection making When Harry Met Sally one of the best romantic comedies of all time.

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