Amy Deardon has an analysis of story structure over at her weblog. It’s pretty thorough and I could argue with parts of it, but instead let me redirect. I put in her comments box my favorite quick-and-dirty story structure for beginning writers.
1) set x = 0
2) Protagonist discovers a problem
3) Protagonist takes a step to solve the problem
4) which ends up making it worse
5) x = x+1; if x<7, return to step 3
6) When the situation can’t get any worse, protagonist solves the problem
If you’re a brand new writer, you’re going to discover a lot of Amy’s elements while you’re toodling along through your book. You’ll realize you need to set up “normal” before you set up “problem” and you’ll begin to realize you need the stakes to be high. In fact, every go-around through trying to solve the problem and making it worse is going to raise the stakes for your characters.
In Seven Archangels: Annihilation, for those of you who’ve read it, the first attempt to solve the problem of Gabriel being kidnapped is that Remiel follows him into Hell to save him. Does it work? Not only does her attempt fail, but there are personal consequences to her as well. Now the stakes are higher, and the characters have more problems to solve. Repeat that three times and you have a short story; cycle that seven times and you have a novel.
(I told you this was quick-and-dirty.)
My beef with deep analyses of story structure is that they tend to put off beginning writers who start feeling as if they need to have all these elements in order to make a story. But the reason these elements crop up in just about every story is because we as humans find them innate. It’s helpful to clarify for advanced writers, but I’d hate to see beginners frightened off from telling their tales because they can’t identify the midpoint or aren’t sure when the slide occurs.