Every story has two major goals. The outer goal is what’s defined in Act I and resolved in Act III. The inner goal is what’s defined in Act II and often resolved by the end of Act IIb or the beginning of Act III.
In “Legally Blonde,” the outer goal is that the hero wants to win back her boyfriend who dumps her. In the end, the hero realizes she doesn’t need her ex-boyfriend after all.
In “Die Hard,” the outer goal is that the hero wants to get back with his wife. In the end, he gets back with his wife.
In “The Little Mermaid,” the outer goal is to become part of the human world. In the end, she gets to become human.
The outer goal is straightforward. The hero wants something and either gets it or fails to get it. Sometimes the hero fails to get it but actually gets something better.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero wants to get back with her boyfriend. In the end, she fails but she’s actually won the heart of a much better man instead.
The inner goal is something that the hero didn’t even know about initially. Often times this inner goal is what keeps the hero from just giving up and doing nothing.
In “Back to the Future,” this inner goal occurs when the hero goes back in time and accidentally stops his mom and dad from meeting. Now the hero absolutely must resolve this inner goal or else he’ll never be born. if he never exists, he’ll never be able to learn to believe in himself.
In “Die Hard,” this inner goal occurs when terrorists take over the building. The hero absolutely must defeat the terrorists or else they’ll kill his wife (or him) and that will keep him from ever achieving the outer goal of getting back with his wife.
In “WALL-E,” the outer goal is to find love. The inner goal occurs when he must protect a plant and get the human race back to Earth. If he fails to get humanity back to Earth, he won’t get the spare parts he needs to survive.
The inner goal is often what most people think the story is really about. Ask most people what “Die Hard” is about and they’ll tell you it’s about one man fighting an army of terrorists in a skyscraper.
Yet that’s not what the real goal of the hero is. His real (outer) goal is to get back with his wife. The inner goal simply threatens to make his outer goal impossible.
“Back to the Future” might seem to be about time travel (inner goal), but it’s really about a young man who needs to believe in himself (other goal).
“Rocky” might seem to be about boxing (inner goal) but it’s really about a man trying to prove he’s not a bum (outer goal).
“Shaun of the Dead” might seem to be a comedy about a zombie apocalypse (inner goal), but it’s really about a man learning to heal his relationships with the people around him (outer goal).
For your own screenplay, your high-concept idea will likely be the inner goal. Now you just have to craft an outer goal where the inner goal is actually the path towards achieving the outer goal.
Think of the last bad movie you watched. Chances are it was nothing but an inner goal with no emotional change. Now think of a great movie you’d love to watch over and over. That story likely has an inner goal and an outer goal where the outer goal defines the hero’s emotional change.
Your screenplay needs an outer goal for emotional change and an inner goal for a high concept. With both, you’ll be well on your way to writing a great screenplay.