Captivate Your Audience, Make Friends: Telling a Story in French
Trading stories is the oldest tradition that still exist in our everyday lives.
It helps us laugh, bond, connect to each other.
Today I’ll show you how to tell your stories, in French! With these exact scripts and sentences you can use immediately, you will soon captivate French people—and even make new friends!
Et toi ?
When did your last coincidence happen?
Did you travel recently?
Your turn, tell us a story!
Bonus Material: Download the Transcript
Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French!
There’s a very old tradition that we still follow in our everyday lives: trading stories. It helps us laugh with old friends, bond with lovers, or connect to strangers. They’re the starting point of a deeper relationship with anyone… and today I’ll show you how to tell your stories! In French!
I’m going to show you the exact words and sentences you can use to keep your story flowing from beginning to end.
If your story has a clear structure, your audience will easily understand–even if your grammar or vocabulary aren’t perfect!
With the following scripts and exact words to say, you will soon captivate French people. Let’s dive in!
- Raconter une histoire
Raconter une histoire is “to tell a story,” and it’s a central part of human bonds. Now, there are many reasons to tell stories, some good reasons, some bad ones, and many different kinds of stories to tell as well.
So before we dive into the specific scripts, you might need to know which kind of story you want to tell, and why you’re telling it.
Is it un souvenir, a memory? Une histoire vraie, a true story, or une histoire inventée, a made-up story / une fiction, a fiction? Un récit de voyage, a travel story, maybe? It might be une aventure, an adventure–or at least une mésaventure, a misadventure. My favorite stories are often une coïncidence, a coincidence that happened to someone.
By the way, in French, “story” is the same word as “history,” the study of things past. For this one, we sometimes use a majuscule: l’Histoire, history. Also, French people don’t have a clear translation for the English word “storytelling,” as in when business and brands use the power of stories for their marketing.
Your story can be intéressant(e), interesting, and hopefully captivant(e), captivating, and even passionnant(e), ravishing, exciting! Be aware though, excitant in French means stimulating or arousing. Don’t make the mistake, unless you’re talking about a very specific kind of story!
You might also hear a story made to make you laugh. Une histoire drôle is a “funny story,” but it’s also a synonym for une blague, a joke. For longer stories, it’s more usual to talk about une histoire amusante, an amusing story, or marrante, a colloquial expression for “funny”. An unusual but useful adjective you can try is cocasse, comical.
Don’t use hystérique, though, it only means “hysterical” in the medical, mental-illness kind of way. Finally historique is actually something else altogether; it means historical, or ancient.
Now let’s see how you actually tell your story.
- Démarrer une histoire
Démarrer une histoire, or commencer une histoire, means to start a story.
The most famous opening is Il était une fois, once upon a time. But it’s old-fashioned, by now... Instead, try to tie your start in with the current conversation you’re having. It will feel more natural, and it’s probably the reason why you want to tell your story in the first place.
For example, you can use:
Ça me rappelle la fois où… “This reminds me of that time when…” (And then you can go on with the story).
Or C’est comme quand j’étais… It’s just like when I was…
Or a little bit more directly: Tiens, d’ailleurs, l’autre jour, je… Oh, by the way, the other day, I…
This last one has the advantage of using Tiens, “hold on”, which is used like “By the way,” or “Oh, that reminds me of…”. The use of a verb at the imperative catches the attention of your audience.
You can be even clearer, and directly involve the listener: “Je t’ai déjà raconté...?” “Did I ever tell you that…?” “Tu te rappelles la fois où... ?” “Do you remember when…?” These ones also call for a short hook, within the heart of your story.
So now, in one sentence, you’ve introduced your story, you have made it clear you want to talk, and you have caught your audience’s attention. That’s a great start! Now you have the space to tell your story. If you want to be listened to, you’ll need to keep to the tried-and-tested structure: le début, le milieu et la fin, the beginning, the middle and the end.
In the beginning, all you need to do is to quickly set up the place, the time and the characters–and what they’re doing. You’ve already done a part of it in your introduction. Tiens d’ailleurs, l’autre jour j’étais au Salon de l’Agriculture avec Julie. On caressait les vaches quand… Oh, by the way, the other day I was at the Agricultural Show with Julie. We were petting some cows when...
Now your audience has a clear picture of the situation, where you were, when and who you were with at the time.
Or Tu te rappelles la fois où on a sauvé un chat ? C’était quand on était en Angleterre. On faisait le tour d’un village et... Do you remember that time when we saved a cat? It was back when we were living in England. We were walking around a small town and…
Again, it only took a short sentence, and your story already has a clear set up. That will help with the following bit. Which are...
- Les rebondissements
Les rebondissements, are the twists. They’re sometimes called les péripéties,the adventures that happen within a story. They’re the heart and soul of your story, when the tension is building, events are happening, and the initial situation is upset in some way.
These twists are introduced by subtle but essential words. Such as : Et là / Et alors… And then, or Et c’est là que, and that’s when… or Et en fait, But actually...
If you want to emphasize a quick twist, try Tout à coup… which means “Suddenly” or “all of a sudden”. There’s also a synonym, closer to the English word: Soudain... but in actual spoken French it’s unusual, and it doesn’t sound right. The same goes for soudainement.
If you want to dramatically build up the suspense, you can also go with the longer Mais c’est à ce moment-là que... But it was at this moment that…
So let’s take an example.
“On caressait les vaches quand tout à coup, l’une d’entre elles s’énerve et nous attaque à travers la grille !” We were petting some cows when all of a sudden, one of them gets angry and attacks us through the fence!
“On faisait le tour du village, et c’est là qu’on entend des petits miaulements, sans savoir d’où ils viennent.” “We were walking around a small town, and that’s when he heard little meows, without knowing from where they came from.”
Then you build up your tension, release it in small victories, and ideally you get to frame it in a neat structure like Star Wars. But you work with what you have, anyway. Until you reach: the end!
- Réussir la fin
Réussir la fin, landing your ending, is important. If you’re not telling an anti-story or some kind of postmodern take on the absurdity of modern life, you want to tie up your story with a satisfying end. And hopefully, a happy one.
For some funny stories, the ending is a punchline that needs to be surprising; then you just treat it like another twist.
But for any other story longer than two or three sentences, you want to make clear when you’re reaching the end. So your audience won’t be left surprised and expecting for more.
The most usual marker for this is:
You can take a look back to what happened with:
En fin de compte… In the end… Or you can just skip straight to the consequences, or sum your story up, with: Bref… Long story short…
For example: “Finalement, on a du amputer la main de Julie, et elle sort de l’hôpital demain.” “Finally, we had to amputate Julie’s hand, and she’s leaving the hospital tomorrow.” Or Bref, on a brûlé un village, mais on a sauvé un chat !” “Long story short, we burned down the village to the ground, but we saved a cat!”
If you forgot to introduce your ending, you might end up being awkwardly quiet, waiting for your audience to realize it’s the end. That’s unpleasant! Avoid this situation with a last: Voilà. It’s a very useful, multi-purpose word, that can mean “That’s it,” “Exactly” or “The End.”
Is it really the end, though?
- Après la fin
Après la fin de l’histoire, after the end of your story, I find it useful to spell out the point of it. It might be a lesson you learned from it, or the reason you’re telling the story at this point of the conversation, or a question it raised in you. Or as we used to call it, la morale (la moralité) de l’histoire, the moral of the story.
I think it’s good manners, it’s another way to keep your audience a part of the conversation. Without it, at worst, you might appear as someone who’s just telling a story to hear yourself talking. And you don’t want that!
You can introduce la moralité de l’histoire, with:
Bref, depuis je… Long story short: since then, I… Du coup, depuis, je… And that’s why, since then…
Et c’est pour ça que… And that’s the reason why…
Tout ça pour dire… All this is to say…
And more explicitly:
Et maintenant j’ai compris pourquoi… And now I get why…
Or even: Moralité : ne jamais… Moral of the story: don’t ever…
For example: “Et c’est pour ça que je ne peux plus aller au Royaume-Uni.” “And that’s why I can’t go to the UK anymore.”
Or “Moralité : ne touchez jamais les taureaux avec un uniforme de la Croix-Rouge !” “Moral of the story: don’t ever touch a bull when you’re wearing a Red Cross uniform!”
And then your story is really complete. Or is it? Hopefully by the end of the story, you got the point across, the audience and the teller had a chance to relate to one another, and at least you got to partake into this very, very old tradition of trading stories.
But it doesn’t stop there! It can also be a powerful tool to start a conversation, or to keep one going! Especially if you follow up with questions of your own. For example, like these questions:
Et toi ?
When did your last coincidence happen? Did you travel recently? Your turn, tell us a story!
Tell me in the comments section, I want to hear from you!
If you’re on Youtube, you’ll find a link below this video to the blog CommeUneFrançaise.com: on the site I read all the comments and answer all your questions too!
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Bonus Material: Download the Transcript