In every story, a hero wants something. That’s the hero’s dream and that’s the initial goal the hero has at the beginning. However, there’s always a second goal that will help the hero achieve the initial dream. That means every story really has a goal that the hero must achieve to get to the initial goal.
In “Coco,” the hero’s dream is to become a musician. However, to get to this goal, the hero must get back from the land of the dead. That’s the hero’s goal within a goal.
In “Die Hard,” the hero’s dream is to get back with his wife. To get to this goal, he must defeat the terrorists.
The goal within the goal teaches the hero how to change. Only by changing can the hero ultimately achieve his or her initial dream.
This goal within a goal can be anything. In “Die Hard,” the initial dream (getting back with his wife) seems completely unrelated to the inner goal (defeating the terrorists). The two goals don’t have to make sense, but what connects them is that if the hero fails to achieve the inner goal, he or she can never achieve the initial dream.
In “Liar Liar”, the hero’s initial dream is also to get back with his wife. However his inner goal isn’t to defeat terrorists but to learn to tell the truth.
The link between the initial dream and the inner goal is this:
- The inner goal teaches the hero to change
- If the hero fails to achieve the inner goal, he or she will lose the initial dream forever
What happens if you lack an initial dream? Then your story has no purpose. What happens if your story lacks an inner goal? Then your story has no depth, which means you’ll likely run out of ideas long before you finish your screenplay.
In “Lethal Weapon,” the hero’s initial dream is to find a reason to live. The inner goal is to solve a homicide case. If the hero fails to solve the homicide case, the hero won’t learn that life is worth living.
In “WALL-E,” the hero’s initial dream is to find someone to love. The inner goal is to get the spaceship back to Earth and save the human race. If the hero fails to get the human race back to Earth, he won’t get the spare parts he needs to survive.
When planning your story, define your hero’s initial dream. Then pick an inner goal that will help the hero achieve that initial dream. This inner goal can be wildly improbable (defeating terrorists in “Die Hard”) or logical (learning to work with others in a band in “Purple Rain”). If your story doesn’t have an initial hero’s dream, you won’t have anywhere to go. If your story doesn’t have an inner goal, your story will risk being too short.
Define an initial dream and an inner goal. That’s the structure of a great story.