I have been trying to perfect the art of making sourdough bread for about 6 months now.
My first attempt at a starter was fairly dismal, which I put down to maybe the age of my bakers flour. With a quick visit to "SIMPLY GOOD", a bulk produce store, relatively close to my home, I was able to buy a fresh batch of flour which made my second starter bubble away nicely in just a few days.
However.....I quickly found out that just because the starter is bubbling and a wonderful fruity smell is being emitted from the bowl, this does not mean things are going to work out. So many other variables come in to play when making a sourdough loaf. The time of the day, the weather, humidity, all of these things and many more affect the ability of the dough to ferment and rise.
After many failed attempts, I resorted to buying "dedicated equipment" thinking this would help. I jumped on-line and purchased a cane banneton, scraper and slashing blade from Sourdough Companion.
This was the first thing that I did right. What a great website!!!!! I did not sign up to use the forum there, however, I found it to be an invaluable place to be able to read all about the "art of sourdough". Being able to read at my own pace and learning level, step by step, was a great help and I have never looked back.
Another great find on "YouTube" is the following video which is all about the shaping of the loaves before setting them aside in the banneton for their final rise.
Good luck if you are on your own quest for the perfect sourdough loaf. I hope the links that I have posted here are of help as well. My advice to you is just practice, practice, practice and keep going - don't get disheartened. When a loaf turns out too flat or too chewy just give it another go.......one day you will be amazed at yourself - just like me.