Every hero typically has a physical goal and an emotional dream. The physical goal is what the hero wants. The emotional dream is what the hero needs.
For example, in “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero is a little girl who wants to compete in a beauty pageant called Little Miss Sunshine. So her physical goal is to get to this competition. However, what she really needs is a family that loves and supports one another. By competing in the beauty pageant, she helps bring her family together so she achieves her emotional dream.
In most cases, the hero has an emotional dream, but no physical goal. The only way the hero can achieve the emotional dream is through the villain, who inadvertently introduces a Symbol of Hope into the hero’s life. By chasing this Symbol of Hope, the hero now has a physical goal to pursue.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero’s physical goal is to win back her ex-boyfriend. However, her emotional dream is to become a strong, independent woman (although she doesn’t recognize this at first). When her ex-boyfriend dumps her and goes to Harvard law school, she decides to attend Harvard law school too, and that gives her a physical goal to pursue, allowing her to achieve her emotional dream as well.
There’s almost always two choices for the hero. The hero wants something but actually needs something else. This need is what makes the hero become a better person in the end.
In “The Shape of Water,” the hero’s emotional dream is to find love, but her immediate physical goal is to befriend an amphibian man. Through this amphibian man, she eventually finds love.
Sometimes the hero fails to get the physical goal, but succeeds in getting the emotional dream. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the hero wants to leave his small town and see the world, but he fails to do this consistently. Instead, he gets what he needs, which is the realization that his life is worthwhile even if he doesn’t leave his small town, and that he’s surrounded by people who love him. That’s far more valuable than leaving town and seeing the world.
In tragedies, the hero may get the physical goal but fail to achieve the emotional dream. In “Leaving Las Vegas,” the hero needs to stop drinking but fails. Instead, he achieves his physical goal which was to drink himself to death.
In the typical happy ending story, the hero gets the physical goal and the emotional dream. In any romantic comedy, the hero finds true love and becomes a better person in the end. In “The Proposal,” the hero initially lies to stay in America, but then learns to tell the truth and avoid a sham marriage. This helps her find true love and get the support of people who truly love her at the same time.
In a more complicated happy ending story, the hero fails to achieve the physical goal but gets the emotional dream anyway. In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the hero’s physical goal is to befriend a dying girl and hopefully watch her get better, but she doesn’t and succumbs to her illness. Despite losing his friend, the hero does become a better person in the end because now he’s changed and has become a much stronger person who has goals in life and is no longer drifting through life.
Think of a physical goal for your hero to achieve and an emotional dream that your hero actually needs. Giving your hero an emotional dream for what he or she needs will help make your story more interesting than a simple one-dimensional physical goal to pursue.