Kevin, start by reading and re-reading your Barry Thornton book.
It is important to do enough testing such that you can understand and predict how your camera, lens, film and developing process will respond to the range of light in a given scene.
Get into the habit of measuring and recording the maximum and minimum brightness of the scenes you photograph. Look for the APUG threads on this subject for "how to's."
You need to test your film/developer combinations in order to determine how the combinations respond to light and thus, how they record shadow and highlight detail.
Once you have learned how your system reacts to light, meter and expose to record the important shadow details in the scene.
Some films are capable of recording much wider scene brightness ranges than others. Examples include Kodak Tri-X, Ilford FP4, Efke 100 and J&C Classic 400.
Most of the characteristics of a film are put there by the film manufacturer. However, highly dilute staining and tanning developers like Pyrocat-HD provide compensating development, and also proportionally tan and stain the highlight areas in the emulsion, which helps prevent the highlight areas from "blowing out." In the highlight areas the emulsion tans and hardens quickly, this causes a localized slow down in development. At the same time, the shadows will fully develop, providing full film speed.
Explore the film/developer threads on APUG and the Azo Forum, they are loaded with good "how to" information on this subject.