I just finished Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks, and I think it's the book I've been looking for all along. We've discussed “pantsing” vs. “plotting” here several times before, but the best thing about Larry's book is that it gives you a structure to hang your work on, regardless of how you write.
There are other books out there that discuss structure, but I've bought several, and so far SSD is the first one to break structure down into easy-to-understand parts.
In my own book, Slow Burn, I had a beginning premise and a vague idea of where I was going with it, but nothing concrete. Every day it was a struggle to decide what came next.
Now enter story structure. I've used the metaphor of a cross-country journey to describe my writing process. It works even better with an understanding of structure. If you think of each milestone (opening hook, plot/twist/turning point 1, p/t/t point 2, etc.) as a waypoint on the route, you still leave a lot of room for creative endeavor, and change.
With a better understanding of each section of the book, I can decide if the ride for my characters between waypoints should be smooth, bumpy, uphill, a car chase, or what. If I understand what section of the book I'm in while writing, it's easier to determine what the purpose of each scene should be, and the types of actions my character should take.
Structure is not sexy, but it's very freeing. Think of building a house. Once you know that it won't collapse because you've created a sound design based on engineering principles, you're free to make it look like a spaceship, treehouse, giant shoe, or tract home.
I know there are authors out there who don't do this intentionally, but chances are if their books are on a shelf somewhere, they do it instinctively.
After reading SSD, I went back and looked at Slow Burn again. It turns out that I had most of the important milestones, and they were even largely in the correct spot. But it would have been so much easier to create that story with an intrinsic sense of the purpose of each section of the book.
My awesome CP has mentioned these concepts to me before, and I balked. Totally. Basically, because I didn't understand the purpose of the different milestones or sections of a story. You may have heard the phrase, “The confused mind says ‘no'”. That was me.
Now, my left-brain is happy about the logic of structure, and my right-brain has been popping out scene ideas all afternoon. Go figure.