How do I write that years have passed in a short story, but without stating it? I have been trying all sorts of techniques, but it's just not sounding right in my story. I really don't know what to do.
When it comes down to it, this is really an exercise in creativity. Figuring out how to keep your story interesting and fresh comes down to taking extra steps like these.
It would be super easy to just say, "Two years later"...but what's the fun in that right? I've had this issue myself and this is how I've attacked it.
1. PAINT A PROSEY PICTURE
When time passes, things change. What visual cues are there in your world that can immediately clue your reader that things have changed?
Consider your protagonist: Has her/his hair changed in length, gone from black to gray, are there more wrinkles, pain where there wasn't before ect.
His hair had grown almost full gray, save for a black patch of strands in the front he brushed back creating a wave like pattern that suited him well. He had new lines on his face too, around the eyes, little creases at the corner that presented themselves when he laughed.
You can also focus on other things such as the surroundings. Are they different? What was once green and lush is now desolate...or maybe the town has grown from 100 people to a million, buildings have been bulldozed or erected.
Whatever you choose to show, make sure you're painting a vivid picture of what has changed so that we can feel the passage of time.
2. TAKE A BREAK
If your short story has chapters, this is easier to pull off. New Chapters typically create the feel of time passing which can be anywhere between a few minutes or a few years. If you'd like to make a big jump, a new chapter would easily do the trick in conjunction with the first tip, to paint a picture of what things look and feel like now.
A scene break could also work. I found a thread on here that already discussed some of this using JK Rowling as an example. Her stories span over years so she would be a great study. You might find some of the responses here helpful for handling this:
3. WORK IT INTO THE DIALOGUE
I think it's clever when a writer can work in significant detail in places that don't seem obvious, but we the readers get the clue.
"It's been what...two-three years?" he asked, his eyes fixed on her chest.*
"Two years, seven months and six weeks, not that I've been counting," she retorted. "And you haven't changed a bit."*
It feels unobtrusive and says a whole lot without having to say a whole lot.
4. STICK IT IN THE SCENE
J.K. does this well.
Hermione didn't turn up for the next class and wasn't seen all afternoon. On their way down to the Great Hall for the Halloween feast, Harry and Ron overheard Parvati Patil telling her friend Lavender that Hermione was crying in the girls' bathroom and wanted to be left alone.... — J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
I personally think this works best with shorter time spans. It would seem jarring to simply say...
They didn't see each other for the next ten years.
In those cases, I think a little purple prosing is necessary to finesse that transition where there is no break, so in keeping with that same example where these two people didn't see each other for the next ten years, I'd say:
It was one of those situations where he knew he should've called, and there were many times he came close to, but the desire was never really there. It took ten years and that look in her eyes to get there. So much time wasted.
If you'd like more, I've found this article helpful: