Your hero must have a goal that starts the story moving forward. As long as the hero continues pursuing this initial goal, then the story constantly feels like it’s getting closer. Without a clear initial goal, audiences have no idea what any action means and thus the story bogs down.
To define this initial goal, focus solely on what happens in Act I and Act III where Act I defines the first 30 minutes of a screenplay and Act III defines the last 30 minutes.
Act I introduces the hero’s initial goal and Act III answers whether the hero achieves this initial goal. Once the hero achieves (or definitely fails to achieve) this initial goal, then the story is over.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the hero’s goal is to get out of her provincial life and get more than what her small town can provide. By the end, the hero has fallen in love with a prince so she has gotten out of her provincial life.
In “Star Wars,” the hero’s goal is to live an adventurous life. By the end, the hero has saved a princess so he finally gets to live an adventurous life.
In romances of any kind such as “Grease” or “Legally Blonde,” the hero’s goal is to find true love. By the end, the hero gets his or her true love.
The hero’s initial goal or dream defines the outer goal, the goal whose outcome isn’t known until the very end. Just having an initial goal is never enough though. What every story also needs is an inner goal which the hero discovers in Act IIa, which defines the 30-60 minute portion of a typical 120-minute movie.
In Act IIa, this inner goal provides a problem that the hero must overcome in order to achieve the initial or outer goal.
In “Back to the Future,” the hero’s initial goal is to change his life for the better. However, once he’s thrust into the past, the inner goal (introduced in Act IIa) is to get his mother and father back together after he accidentally keeps them from meeting. If they fail to meet, he won’t be born.
In “WALL-E,” the hero’s initial goal is to get Eve to fall in love with him. However, once he follows Eve to her spaceship, his next goal is to save the plant so it can bring the spaceship back to Earth.
In “The Little Mermaid,” the hero’s initial goal is to become human. However, once she gets into the human world, her goal to get the prince to kiss her so she can get back her voice and stay human.
The structure is simple. A hero has an initial goal introduced in Act I and finally achieved (or not) in Act III.
While pursuing this initial goal, the hero enters a new world in Act II and that’s when he or she discovers an inner goal that must be solved before he or she can achieve the initial goal.
In Act III, the hero must first solve this inner goal. Then by the end of Act III (and the entire screenplay), the hero can finally solve the outer goal.
In “Star Wars,” the outer goal is to get off his uncle’s farm and live an adventurous life. The inner goal is to escape off the Death Star.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the outer goal is to escape from her boring provincial life. The inner goal is to save the beast.
When outlining your story idea, start with the hero’s initial goal and decide if the hero gets that initial goal in the end or not. Then define an inner goal that the hero must achieve in order to achieve the outer goal.
With both an inner goal and an outer goal for the hero to pursue, you’ll create a much stronger story that keeps moving the action forward.