Yesterday was my first time animating live for a school in the Philippines. I animated Puss in Boots, since this is a character I have spent almost a year working with at Dreamworks Animation (both feature and TV).
I decided to animate a take for them. I showed them how I figure out the acting, my thumbnails, first pass, breakdowns, tie downs and then in betweening. I could only finish the first part for them - and tying down the rest on my own time. It was challenging to talk about every step of my process, what I’m thinking about - and hopefully some useful notes I gave for further animation. I decided to summarize every important note I gave during that lecture. I’ll let you guys know if I could get a public version of that footage sometime.
I haven’t seen any essays on this one, but I’ve just undergone a mission to remove it from my own manuscript, so I figured I’d write about it myself.
Take is one of those words that we use so often, we forget how unnecessary it usually is.
Compare these examples:
Jane takes a step.
Jane takes a sip.
Jane takes it from him.
Jane grabs it from him.
In each scenario, a strong verb replaces a weak one.
In the first two examples, the true action of the sentence is disguised as a direct object. This works similarly to the way the subject is disguised as the direct object in passive voice, and shouldn’t be used for the same reasons. It’s wordier, and by assuming the roll of the verb, it takes attention away from the actual action.
In the third example, take and grab work as synonyms, but grab is a more precise verb. Take has neutral connotations. It’s a catch-all for many actions. You can take a letter from someone’s hand gently or you can take it from their hand by snatching it away. You need context to see how the action is playing out. You need more words. By replacing “take” with “grab” in this instance, you’re saying the same and more. You don’t need more words to describe the “how” of the action, because the verb does it for you.
Words to use instead of take: accept, remove, seize, acquire, obtain, grab, grasp, etc.
Sometimes, when the action of is more neutral, “take” may work better. For example: if Jane takes some milk from the fridge, you don’t really need to clarify that she’s doing so roughly or gently. You don’t want to use a verb that’s stronger than the action itself.
You’ll also notice that the first examples are wordier than the latter ones. “Take” is a vague verb. It tells the reader little about the nature of the action. In most instances, it doesn’t deserve the space on the page.
When to use take:
You can use take when you’re talking about a more abstract subject. You’ll notice the time I’ve used take here, I’m not talking about a physical action. I’m talking about attention, something you can’t touch or smell or taste.
I could use a stronger verb in this scenario: “it commandeers attention from the actual action,” but that sounds silly. Flowery. Unnecessary. Here, a stronger verb doesn’t provide any more clarity. Nor does it match the more neutral tone of the sentence. Like I said, you don’t want to use a verb that’s stronger than the action itself.
You can use it when you’re being wordier on purpose. Consider which option achieves a better effect
He steps hesitantly toward her.
He takes a hesitant step toward her.
In this case, I’d personally say it was the latter option for two reasons.
It introduces “hesitant” before “step.” The moment a word comes up, it immediately brings an image into the reader’s mind. Even a simple, vague word like “step.” If your reader imagines a quick step, having to amend that image, even if it’s only a second later, can draw them out of the story. I personally don’t like taking that risk.
The pace of the sentence mirrors the pace of the action. Inserting “takes” here slows down the pace of the reading, mimicking the pace of the scene. In action scenes, short, clipped sentences work well because they imitate the action on the page. In a scene like this, whatever he’s about to do (profess his undying love for her, murder her, tell her that her father has died and now she’s Empress of All the Lands), there’s an element of suspense here. He’s wondering if he should do it. She’s wondering what he’s doing. And the reader is wondering it, too. Lengthening the sentence allows the reader to experience that hesitant step with the characters.
You can also, obviously, use take where it appears in common phrases: “take some time,” “take a break,” “takes after his mother,” etc.
When asking yourself if you should use the word “take,” ask the questions you should ask of every element of your writing:
Is it clear? Is it concise? Is it adding to my story?
Take chances, take a lot of them. Because honestly, no matter where you end up and with whom, it always ends up just the way it should be. Your mistakes make you who you are. You learn and grow with each choice you make. Everything is worth it. Say how you feel, always. Be you, and be okay with it.