I've been writing stories since I was a young child, yet I didn't publish my first story until I was 28. That's about twenty years of practice before my stories were ready. I learned by trial and error and developed skills slowly over time.
The biggest issue with my early stories was that they had no structure. I just wrote whatever came to mind. After a lot of practice, I finally developed a feel for how stories needed to progress. I only discovered story structure after I had written my first book, The Spectra Unearthed, yet that one does fit the beats of a structured story.
Again, it took me twenty years to get to that point, and about four years of working on that one book. Some authors still write by instinct, and their stories still end up having structure even if they don't do it deliberately. Personally, I find that story structure lets me write faster, and my stories turn out better.
Nine steps for a simple story
Today I gave my kids a nine-step formula for writing a structured story. I had them write down one sentence per step. When I write, I use a similar formula, though for me, one step equals about three chapters.
Half steps for a more advanced story
For more advanced writers, you might want to add half-steps in between some of these major beats:2.5: What was your character's life like before the story? 3.5: What is your character's new life like now that they have chosen to change? 4.5: How does your character react to their troubles? 5.5: How does your character prepare to face their troubles? 6.5: What convinces your character to keep trying? 7.5: What hidden strengths can your character draw on to rise above everything that went wrong?
Next, my kids and I looked at KM Weiland's Story Structure database to learn how stories that we already know and love fit our model. We used Harry Potter 1. I've also used the movies Frozen and Aladdin.
Story Structure in The Spectra Books
For my first few Keita's Wings books, I used story structure to turn a messy rough draft into a publishable story. Now I also use it to create an outline before I start writing. I update my outline as I go to help me keep track of where I am in the story and what I need to do next.
Here are some of the finished outlines for some of my books (some of them are cropped to remove spoilers).