The external quest is what the character wants.
The internal quest is what the character needs.
The two quests are never the same, and the character is often unaware of the internal quest, creating conflict. She then explained that the quest(s) the character achieves dictates the story ending.
If a character gets both what he wants and needs, it is a HAPPY ending.
If a character does not get what he wants, but gets what he needs, it is a HOPEFUL ending.
If a character gets what he wants, but not what he needs, it is a MORAL LESSON.
And finally, if a character does not get what he wants or needs, it is a DEPRESSING ending.
When teaching this concept to my eighth grade ELA students, I begin with familiar texts and video before moving on to more complex stories. This year my classes started with the climactic scene from Wreck It Ralph.
My students determined the following during their analysis of the story.
Ralph’s external quest is he wants a gold medal, so that others will finally accept him and see him as a good guy.
Ralph decides he needs to win a medal - click picture to watch scene
Ralph realizes his internal quest - click picture to watch scene
Determining a character's external and internal quests is a great exercise in the classroom and in your writing. Next time you sit down to work on your story, see if you can pinpoint your characters' quests.