While short stories and plays are different in format and in presentation, as works of literature they share many common elements. Besides standard elements such as setting, plot and foreshadowing, much of the structure of a short story is similar to that of a play.
Like most forms of literature, plays and short stories share elements of setting, conflict and plot. The setting in a short story is sometimes explicitly stated, but often revealed one tidbit at a time, such as a character's mentioning the year, or the weather in their location. In a play, the setting is stated in the stage directions for readers, but is revealed to play viewers through backdrops and costumes as well as spoken lines. Conflict is what drives any work of literature, and both plays and short stories have at least one conflict. Although literary works often play games with plot, having a beginning, a middle and an end is generally common to a short story, with a climax of action then a denouement, or falling action, at the end.
Both plays and short stories use dramatization to reveal character and plot. Good short stories, then, have dialogue and action that is similar to a play. For example, instead of explaining action, a story shows it. Rather than saying, "Peter told Annie that his ex-wife and their children would be coming for dinner without giving her any explanations," a short story would dramatize by saying, "Janet and the kids are coming for dinner tomorrow," Peter announced. "What?" countered Annie, but Peter did not respond as he walked out the front door." In both short stories and plays, the audience should be shown and not told.
Both short stories and plays use minimal background, description and explanations, leaving character development to the dialogue in the story. Readers or viewers pick up information about the characters in bits and pieces, through lines they speak, clothing they wear and how they interact with other characters. By contrast, novels often have long passages describing the thoughts, feelings and backgrounds of characters, allowing the reader to quickly have a view of who they are and what their motivations are.
Discovery and Interpretation
In both short stories and plays, a great deal of the explanation, background and motivation is left to the viewer or reader to discover and decide for himself. Because not everything is explicitly stated, each viewer or reader interprets action for himself and may have a different experience than another person viewing the same play or reading the same story.