While one is meant to be experienced by a solitary reader and the other by a live audience, short stories and plays share some key characteristics. Both literary genres include characters, plot, literary devices and themes that must be interpreted by the audience. When writing about fiction and drama, students can examine the conflicts and changes that take place throughout the text.
Characters -- and character development -- are fundamental to both fiction and drama. Short stories and plays generally have a protagonist, or a main character, who drives the plot. For example, Hamlet is the protagonist in William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet" and Gregor Samsa is the protagonist in Franz Kafka's short story "Metamorphosis." In both cases, evaluating the protagonist's strengths, weaknesses, mistakes and development over time can give insight into the overall meaning of a text. Given the brevity of the medium, character development may happen rapidly or not at all in a short story. In this case, readers can analyze a character's dialogue, attitude, relationships, thoughts and actions from the start of the story.
Generally speaking, a plot is a sequence of events in a work of literature. The sequence of a plot typically consists of a beginning, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion. A plot often involves a complication or conflict, which can be between two characters, a character and herself or a character and an outside force such as nature. For example, in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," there is a conflict between Tessie Hutchinson and the collective pressure of the ritual.
Writers can use literary devices to creatively communicate the plot and meaning of a text. For example, Tennessee Williams incorporates flashbacks in his play "A Streetcar Named Desire" to reveal the cause behind Blanche DuBois' weak state of mind. Other forms of literary devices that are used in fiction and drama include symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphors, personification and irony. These devices serve as tools for the reader to examine and analyze a text to draw connections between the literature and the real world.
Common literary themes -- which are observations or statements about life and the human experience -- include prejudice and injustice, the importance of human expression, death and mourning, loss of innocence, revenge, the importance of family and the need for love. Themes are present in all forms of literature and are implicitly conveyed through plot, symbolism, characters and setting. They must be inferred by the reader and a single text can have more than one theme.