A Short Consideration of Overthinking

I’ve been overthinking one of my primary characters for a while now. To be fair, in that game, it sometimes seems like almost any sort of characterization beyond finding a motivation to save the world is overthinking. And the character is more than capable of overanalyzing things herself, and just enough of an outsider to the dominant culture that she’d start putting too much thought into the strange stuff.

I’ll grant that overthinking things isn’t necessarily a good thing—and in fact, it has a deserved reputation for causing more problems than it solves. It leads to indecision paralysis (which in a game leads to even longer combats, rarely a good plan), to scrapping ideas for far too little reason, to coming to an entirely wrong conclusion due to incorporating details that weren’t even supposed to be relevant.

On the other hand, overthinking your own creations lets you turn something that at the time was the result of a whim into a way to make it look like you were planning ahead even then—sometimes weeks or even months later. It can let you extrapolate cultural details into amusing potential questions: “Okay, so if you people think you’re going to be borne off to your afterlives on the backs of flying horses, is the reason why we’re practically the only people who clear out abandoned temples because all these guys are afraid to die underground because horses can’t handle stairs?” Trying to reconcile actions driven by your own mood with the character’s actual motivations can lead to interesting characterization. And any plot that involves multiple parties trying to play each other is nigh on impossible to write convincingly or puzzle through without overthinking just about everything.

Overthinking doesn’t have to be a problem; the key is knowing when to overthink (“When not on deadline” is a good rule of thumb) and when to just stick to thinking fast and worrying about the rest later.

And that’s true even if I am overthinking it.

Leave a Reply