Fortunately, a Writer's Digest column has resurfaced. Titled "A Million Words a Year For Ten Straight Years," it captures Walter Gibson's storytelling approach in his own words. I am currently trying to determine if the article is in the public domain. If so, I will reprint it in its entirety here. In the meantime, let's see what one of pulp's grandmasters has to say about character and plot.
This is by no means as obvious as it sounds. It does not mean to construct a character, equip him with a lot of things that will please you, and may catch the reader. That's just as far away from it as beginning with a solid plot, and then jamming the lead character into it. If the character is to be the personalization of the plot, he must develop with it.
You must treat your character as a discovery, rather than your own creation. Treat him, not just seriously, but profoundly. Picture him as real, and beyond you, in mins as well as prowess. Feel that however much you have learned about him, you can never uncover all. This mental attitude gives you a deeper knowledge of the character than the story itself discloses.
Th plot induced by this process will normally require a lesser character who may be termed the "proxy hero." He is the person, along with others like him, who is matched against the villains of the piece, in a theme which is really the personal saga of that all-important lead character, who is developed through his influence and action towards the lesser figures.
The proxy can be replaced by another, even from the wrong camp. The unity lies in the lead character's identity with the plot. When incidents and situation are fed to him, they are used or rejected, according t how the rebound to the writer.
This isn't metaphysical bunk. It's the system I have used, though it may sound odd when rationalized.
Basically, my lead character is in the game for his own amusement, and therefore (parenthetically) the reader's entertainment.
I found I could start a story just from that.
However, it wasn't a case of taking any character, and giving him any problem. They must be suitable to that lead character, who IS your story. The "proxy" can be dumb or bright; his problem small or large, plain or bizarre. But it must feed to the lead character, or--here's a help--must furnish the impetus to another problem that is very well suited to him. In which case, the original character and problem is like giving a car a shove, when the starter won't work.
I learned these things the hard way.