Prepared for some spooky tales?
How about some ghostly prose?
Although Halloween isn’t deeply ingrained in French culture, French speakers most certainly enjoy creepy stories of all sorts.
By using these haunted tales for writing inspiration, we can get in some fun, much-needed French writing practice.
Writing stories is a fantastic way to practice your French. It exercises the active language pathways in your brain, plus gets you to use grammar and vocabulary in ways that associate creatively in your mind—so you understand and remember a million times more effectively.
While writing is often considered a more difficult skill to practice, we know that writing haunted ghost stories will have you reaching for the pens! So we’ve put together six ghost story writing challenges for you, each targeting a different element of the French language.
Creepy French Stories to Get You Started
To get the ideas flowing, here are some spooky French stories to read. Most of these are suitable for intermediates and beginners, as long as you don’t mind hiding under the covers!
- “La Balafre” by Jean-Claude Mourlevat — This is a spooky book about a boy who sees a dog and a little girl at an old abandoned house, but nobody believes him. It’s great for intermediates because it was written for pre-teens, and has a very tense and eerie narrative.
- “La Maison aux 52 portes” by Evelyne Brisou-Pellen — Here’s a very similar book about a girl who hears talking and messages from behind closed doors into empty rooms, also suitable for intermediates and post-beginners.
- “Là-bas” by J.K Huysmans — A creepy book featuring satanism and hell, “Là-bas” is well regarded as a French classic. Advanced learners, see if you can find any literary tenses in this one… if you dare.
- “Entretien avec un vampire : L’Histoire de Claudia” by Anne Rice — A graphic novel based on “Interview with a Vampire,” this story is great for beginners to practice reading spoken French without worrying too much about narration and tenses.
- 10 True Short Stories by Various — Here’s something for the time-poor! This site has put together ten short and tense stories all reported to be true. Spooky!
Building a Spooky French Vocabulary Bank
When writing in French, it’s important to use varied phrases, vocabulary and grammar structures. To help you achieve the best work you can, we highly recommend building a vocabulary bank. This will become a valuable reference, and it’s also a really effective learning tool.
A vocabulary bank is a list of phrases and words that you’ve collected together for a particular reason, either to help you write a particular piece or for learning more about French conversation or learning for a course. For example, you could make a vocabulary bank for meeting people, and add phrases like enchantée de faire votre connaissance (pleased to meet you).
- For these spooky writing challenges, you could create a vocabulary bank for each, or a single vocabulary bank for all of them. For example, you could create a vocabulary bank on les fantômes (ghosts) and add vocabulary like hanté (haunted).
- Take a look through a dictionary (written or visual), compile a list of vocabulary that you want to use, and then add these to your vocabulary bank. This will inspire your writing challenges and give you the vocab that you need to work beyond the French words that you’re already familiar with.
- Add phrases and grammar structures that you want to use as well, i.e. examples of use of prepositions that you can use in your writing. This will be especially useful for the adverb and preposition challenges.
6 Spooky Writing Challenges Based on Real French Ghost Stories
To make your ghost story interesting and hook the reader in, it’s best to use short sentences and emotive language. This means that ghost stories aren’t the best place to practice conjunctions, but they are the best place to practice adverbs and starting lots of short sentences with different prepositions.
Another good thing to practice is the positioning of adverbs and the difference this can make to meaning, To help you practice each of these, we have six spooky writing challenges for you—each based on a real French ghost story.
1. Père Lachaise Cemetery — Position and Time Prepositions
Prepositions sometimes need a lot of practice and can be something that trip up a lot of French learners. Although they’re easy to learn, the French often use these in a very different way than English speakers are used to, making direct translations sound very strange and awkward.
To practice using these prepositions in the correct way, look for them in your reading and then copy the same usage. For example:
- The phrase “above all” in English is avant tout (lit. before everything).
- Also, instead of “on the week-end” or “in the evening,” the French just say le week-end and le soir.
Add as many prepositional phrases as you can to your vocabulary bank (see below) to help your writing. Here are some you could look out for when reading:
- Devant (in front)
- Derrière (behind)
- Dans (in)
- Entre (between)
- Sur (on)
- Sous (under)
- À côté de (next to)
- En face de (in front of)
- Avant (before)
- Après (after)
- Depuis (since)
- Pendant (while)
- Jusqu’à (until)
Your Preposition Challenge: Père Lachaise Cemetery
A chilling place with some very disturbing stories, this one is well worth a read. Fact is stranger than fiction here, so you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Your challenge is to use as many of the prepositions as you can, describing the graveyard in minute detail. You can also use the time prepositions to help you build tension throughout the action of your story.
2. Haunted Versailles — Adverbs
Adverbs—which describe verbs or adjectives—are very useful for adding interest and description to a piece of writing, so this is a great opportunity to practice getting them right. Try and include as many varied adverbs as you can.
To form an adverb, you usually take the feminine version of an adjective and add -ment to it. For example:
heureux (adj. – happy/lucky) | feminine version: heureuse → heureusement (adv. – happily/luckily)
However, if the masculine adjective ends in a vowel, this same rule is used:
facile (adj. – easy) → facilement (adv. – easily)
Some adjectives have their final -e changed into -é before becoming an adverb, like this one:
énorme (adj. – enormous) → énormément (adv. – enormously)
If an adjective ends in –ent/-ant, this is dropped and -emment/-amment is added.
brilliant (adj. – bright) → brillamment (adv. – brightly)
Here are some irregular adverbs:
- Vite (fast)
- Bien (good)
- Mal (bad)
- Gentiment (nicely)
- Assez (enough)
- Trop (too much)
Your Adverb Challenge: Haunted Versailles
The Paris of Versaille is said to be very haunted, especially by Marie-Antoinette’s ghost. This is a very intriguing place, and one of France’s most haunted.
Your challenge is to use all of the irregular adverbs in a very haunting narrative!
3. The White Ladies — Position of Adjectives
In English, adjectives usually come before the nouns: blue house, fast car, cute dog. In French, the adjective normally goes after the noun, like this: la grenouille verte (the green frog). However, there are some French adjectives that go before the noun, such as le vieil homme (the old man).
If the position of the adjective is wrong, it will either sound awkward or give a completely different meaning, depending on the adjective. So let’s take a look at some adjectives that go before the noun:
- Beau (beautiful)
- Gentil (kind)
- Jeune (young)
- Mauvais (bad)
- Nouveau (new)
- Vilain (nasty)
- Bon (good)
- Grand (big)
- Joli (pretty)
- Même (same)
- Petit (small)
- Excellent (excellent)
- Gros (big/fat)
- Long (long)
- Meilleur (better/best)
- Vieux (old)
There are also several adjectives that change their meaning as to whether they are placed before or after the noun. In the list below, the first translation is for when the adjective comes before the noun, and the second is for when the adjective comes after the noun.
- Cher (dear / expensive)
- Ancien (former / old)
- Propre (own / clean )
- Pauvre (poor – deserving sympathy / poor – lacking money)
- Dernier (last in a series / last – the previous one)
Your Adjective Position Challenge: The White Ladies (Les Dames Blanches)
A legend in France, the White Ladies have had a lot of appearances in literature and arts as dark spirits who committed many evils. Read what you can about them, and then:
Your challenge is to use all of the adjectives whose meaning depends on their position in your sentences, and as many adjectives that go before the noun as you can. The rest is up to you…
4. Haunting of the Eiffel Tower — Passé Simple Tense
If literary tenses are new to you, prepare to be freaked out. The French language has both spoken and literary verb tenses; the latter are no longer used in spoken French, so you’ll only see them written. Many of the literary tenses in French are becoming archaic, so you don’t really need to worry about them unless you’re reading an older text.
There are some tenses that you do need to be aware of in literary writing, though, such as the passé simple.
The passé simple is used for narration in many texts, and although it is becoming less popular, it’s very useful in the context of this challenge. Passé simple is a great tense for maintaining tension because you can form shorter sentences, and it’s often used in fairy tales and ghost stories. If this tense is totally new to you, or if you’d like a refresher, here’s your complete guide to the passé simple.
Your Passé Simple Challenge: Haunting of the Eiffel Tower
There are many legends of ghosts haunting the Eiffel tower, including lovers who jumped out of desperation and those who died in construction of the famous tower. Olivier Bleys has written a book based on true events to inspire you to write this one.
Your challenge is to narrate a story of two lovers on the Eiffel Tower using the passé simple in the style of a fairy tale. You can make it as humorous or scary as you like.
5. Haunted Louvre — Imperfect Tense
Ghost stories can be perfect for practicing the first person narrative (I was…) and so the imperfect tense can come into play here! Since the imperfect tense is a descriptive past tense, it’s perfect for starting a story and setting the scene (like writing about a house that was spooky). You could also use it if a character speaks in your story.
This ultimate guide to the imperfect tense will tell you everything you need to know!
Your Imperfect Tense Challenge: Haunting of the Louvre
Your challenge for the Haunting of the Louvre is to write a short story in first person, setting the scene with the imperfect tense. Describe the Louvre as much as you can, especially how creepy it can be at night!
6. Catacombs of Paris — Tenses in Direct and Indirect Speech
That leads us on beautifully to direct and indirect speech in writing.
Direct speech is when exact speech is reported with a speech tag, as in: “He insisted, ‘I know I saw a ghost!'” For this, Guillemet symbols are needed (« » ) around the speech as quotation marks. Examples of French speech tags are:
- Annoncer (to announce)
- Crier (to shout)
- Déclarer (to declare)
- Dire (to say)
- Insister (to insist)
- Prétendre (to claim)
- Répondre (to answer)
Indirect speech is when there are no quotation marks and the speech is added to the narrative, as in, “She said that she liked old castles.” To write speech as indirect instead of direct, you may need to change the tense, conjugation, personal pronouns (je – I) and possessives (ma – my), so make sure to double check.
Your Direct and Indirect Speech Challenge: Catacombs of Paris
The catacombs, home to many of Paris’s skulls and bones, is said to be haunted for obvious reasons. You can view a slideshow of creepy views here.
Your challenge is to write a dialogue between two people using both direct and indirect speech in the catacombs of Paris. This is a great chance to write a very chilling story, you can choose either the passé compose or passé simple for this challenge.
Time to get your quill and ink—as well as your dark side—out!
And One More Thing…
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