Created By: darthwedgius on July 21, 2013 Last Edited By: darthwedgius on August 8, 2013
Troped

Delivery Not Desired

A message intended never to be received.

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A character writes a letter, every word chosen with care, full of enough heart to make a strong man weep... And drops it into a drawer, never to be seen again.

This is a message (a letter, a recording, an e-mail) to someone the sender knows will never receive it. This is often a hand-written letter, for a more personal note and since speed obviously isn't of the essence.

This can be used to present a first-person narrative in an interesting way, making it very often a sub-trope of Surrogate Soliloquy. For Bonus Poignancy Points, the would-be recipient is often dead, in which case this is a sub-trope of Talking to the Dead. In-universe, it can be used to collect one's thoughts by using an imaginary sounding board, a way to cheat Never Got to Say Goodbye (take that, Death!), or it can be used if you really, really need to say something, and there's no one (alive) to say it to.

It is certainly not unknown to happen in real life, of course. And, being a well-established trope, it is definitely capable of being subverted.

If this is a message that was never intended to be sent, but is sent anyway, and there is a (presumably non-dead) recipient for it, this becomes an Irrevocable Message.

On TV or in a movie, expect a Voiceover Letter.

Not the case of the sender expecting to be dead by the time the message is received (which is nearer Dead Man Writing). Also not the case in which a message is written to be sent, but ends up not sent for one reason or another.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bakura is seen writing a letter to her late sister
  • Kurau Phantom Memory: After Kurau receives her powers in the lab accident, her father's Mad Scientist boss keeps subjecting her to tests For Science, without regard for her safety or comfort until her father has her smuggled out of the facility to be raised by foster parents. Despite his command that she must cut off all contact with him, she is shown writing letters to him as she grows up. The last scene of this montage shows her releasing her latest letter to fly away in the wind out to sea...
  • Fairy Tail: One chapter reveals that Lucy has been writing letters to her deceased mother about her adventures with the True Companions. She stored them in a small drawer in her house.

Comic Books
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man Blue has a tape recorder varient. Peter records a message to the deceased Gwen Stacy, reflecting on his time with her and explaining she's the reason he's always a bit blue around Valentine's Day. When his wife Mary Jane hears him, rather than be upset that he's talking to his lost love, she understands and asks him to say hello for her.
  • Genął: At least one story (written by Adam Warren) had protagonist and resident Amazonian Beauty Genius Bruiser Caitlin Fairchild 'narrate' the events of the issue after the fact through writing an e-mail to her recently-deceased father. The final panel of the story is her hitting the 'Delete' button once she's done.

Fan Fiction

Literature
  • Infernal Devices: In Clockwork Angel, while Tessa is imprisoned by the Dark Sisters, she writes letters to Nate for comfort, knowing she most likely would not be able to send them.
  • Like a Bone in the Throat by Lawrence Block: A condemned murderer writes a letter to his victim's brother gloating about how much he enjoyed the crime in excruciating detail--then keeps it aside as he mails a much more repentant letter as part of a scheme to reduce his sentence. It works, because the brother wants him released to kill him personally, but that's not quite the end of the story.
  • Dear Mr Henshaw by Beverly Cleary: He's not dead, but the second half is actually a diary rather than letters to Mr Henshaw. Leigh keeps beginning the entries "Dear Mr (Pretend) Henshaw" because he's used to it.
  • The Diamond Chariot: In the end of part 1, the captured spy writes a letter to his long-lost-but-recently-found father, then burns it and commits suicide.

Live-Action TV
  • Magnum, P.I.: The title character writes a letter to the daughter he thinks is dead, in a plot about why he doesn't kill her murderer.
  • M*A*S*H: In the episode "Dear Sigmund", Sidney Freedman feels down in the dumps after a psychiatrict patient of his commits suicide because of voices in his head. Wanting a "vacation", Sidney retreats to the 4077th for a couple of weeks; while there, he writes a letter about the people and the hijinx of the 4077th to none other than Sigmund Freud. B.J. even remarks,
    B.J.: Sidney... you're a phychiatrist, don't you think writing a letter to Sigmund Freud is a little crazy?
    Sidney: Who better than he would understand?
  • Smallville: In one episode, Chloe writes a letter to Clark telling him how much she loves him, never planning to send it. Several seasons later, after Chloe has hooked up with Jimmy Olsen, Clark happens to find the letter.

Music
  • Big Lie, Small World by Sting is about a man who accidentally posts such a letter, then goes to increasingly insane lengths (to the point of holding the postman at gunpoint) to intercept it.
  • The Vocaloid song A Clingy Boy Sticking for 15 Years has an ending that reveals that the girl the singer has been writing letters to for 15 years had been Dead All Along. Quite a Mood Whiplash compared to the goofy lyrics of the rest of the song...

Newspaper Comics
  • Get Fuzzy: Satchel writes a letter to Ray Charles, thanking him for this music, because listening to it makes him happy. Rob then takes Satchel to the edge of a cliff overlooking water for him to mail it by folding it into a paper plane and sending it into the air.

Video Game
  • Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life: The framing device is the player's mentor figure/farm hand writing a letter to the player's deceased father about the farm's progress, the player's growing family, and how much has changed over time.

Western Animation
  • Family Guy: Parodies this in one episode. A family therapist tells the whole family to write angry letters addressed to the other family members. Peter gives each of them the letters he wrote, and it turns out he was only supposed to write to vent anger. He wasn't supposed to give them the letters.

Real Life
  • Abraham Lincoln once advised a friend to write a vitriolic letter to an enemy, and then not send it, to get the anger out without making things worse.
  • Richard Feynman, noted physicist (How noted? He has a page here), wrote a love letter to his wife 16 months after she died. It remained sealed until after his death, making it perhaps a rare real-life case of both this and Dead Man Writing.
Community Feedback Replies: 60
  • July 21, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Fixed the broken spoiler tags and did some formatting.
  • Live Action TV
    • M*A*S*H: In the episode "Dear Sigmund", Sidney Freedman feels down in the dumps after a psychiatrict patient of his commits suicide because of voices in his head. Wanting a "vacation", Sidney retreats to the 4077th for a couple of weeks; while there, he writes a letter about the people and the hijinx of the 4077th to none other than Sigmund Freud. B.J. even remarks,
      B.J.: Sidney... you're a phychiatrist, don't you think writing a letter to Sigmund Freud is a little crazy?
      Sidney: Who better than he would understand?

    Newspaper Comics
    • Get Fuzzy: Satchel writes a letter to Ray Charles, thanking him for this music, because listening to it makes him happy. Rob then takes Satchel to the edge of a cliff overlooking water for him to mail it by folding it into a paper plane and sending it into the air.
  • July 21, 2013
    RoseBride
    In Yu Gi oH manga, Bakura is seen writing letter to her late sister
  • July 23, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    Do we have this already? This seems really familiar but I can't figure out if it's because we have this trope or its just such a common device.

    Anyways examples:

    In Harvest Moon A/Another Wonderful Life the framing device is the player's mentor figure/farm hand writing a letter to the player's deceased father about the farm's progress, the player's growing family, and how much has changed over time.

    Spider Man Blue has a tape recorder varient. Peter records a message to the deceased Gwen Stacy, reflecting on his time with her and explaining she's the reason he's always a bit blue around Valentine's Day. When his wife Mary Jane hears him, rather than be upset that he's talking to his lost love, she understands and asks him to say hello for her.
  • July 23, 2013
    darthwedgius
    I originally created this trying to find it so I could link to it from an article. I wasn't able to find it, but you never know.
  • July 23, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Changed the title from "Letter to the Lost" for precision, and updated it to include examples others had given.
  • July 23, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    There was a supplemental comic from Star Wars The Clone Wars featuring a clone trooper stationed on an ice planet writing to a fellow soldier who had long since died on Christophsis, the planet featured in the pilot movie.
  • July 23, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • This trope is the entire premise behind Letters From Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood, and based upon actual letters written by Japanese soldiers found buried in the bunker network of Iwo Jima. Some letters were written much like an Apocalyptic Log, while others held the longshot hope that they'd survive the first assault wave.
  • July 24, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    At least one story of the Gen13 comic (written by Adam Warren) had protagonist and resident Amazonian Beauty Genius Bruiser Caitlin Fairchild 'narrate' the events of the issue after the fact through writing an e-mail to her recently-deceased father. The final panel of the story is her hitting the 'Delete' button once she's done.
  • July 24, 2013
    DaibhidC
    He's not dead, but the second half of Dear Mr Henshaw by Beverly Cleary is actually a diary rather than letters to Mr Henshaw. Leigh keeps beginning the entries "Dear Mr (Pretend) Henshaw" because he's used to it.
  • July 24, 2013
    darthwedgius
    I clarified that the recipient should be dead (or the message undeliverable) rather than the sender.

    I'm not going to include Letters From Iwo Jima because I think they intended the letters to eventually make it to the recipients, but I haven't seen the movie and cannot be sure.
  • July 24, 2013
    jayoungr
    This would be a subtrope of Talking To The Dead, which includes some examples that are letters.
  • July 24, 2013
    Alvin
    When I first read the description I thought it would include: Real Life: Abraham Lincoln once advised a friend to write a vitriolic letter to an enemy, and then not send it, to get the anger out without making things worse.
  • July 24, 2013
    Generality
    The Sting song "Big Lie, Small World" is about a man who accidentally posts such a letter, then goes to increasingly insane lengths (to the point of holding the postman at gunpoint) to intercept it.
  • July 24, 2013
    acrobox
    would this include people writing love notes or hate mail just to get it out of their system, but with no intention of actually sending it.

    That sometimes turns into a Stock Plot about the message somehow being sent, or just losing it and the unintended recipient gets a hold of it. The plot then becomes about finding a way to destroy the message before the recipient actually has a chance to open it up and read it.
  • July 24, 2013
    darthwedgius
    I had in mind messages that could not be delivered rather than those that the writer chose not to deliver, but I'm certainly flexible. Then it would include "Big Lie, Small World" and Alvin's Real Life example.

    This is *usually* a subtrope of Talking To The Dead, there are other cases. The Star Trek: TNG example is one, where the defector's daughter is alive but the mailman won't deliver to Romulus.

    Though I need to watch the TNG episode again; it might be unclear whether the defector thought the message could be delivered, someday, in which case it wouldn't be an example of this trope.
  • July 24, 2013
    GKaiser
    Would The Dark Knight's Rachel writing a letter to Bruce that never gets delivered count?
  • July 24, 2013
    darthwedgius
    The Dark Knight example was of a letter than was intended to be delivered by the writer, so I think it wouldn't count.
  • July 24, 2013
    DracMonster
    • In Kurau Phantom Memory, after Kurau receives her powers in the lab accident, her father's Mad Scientist boss keeps subjecting her to tests For Science, without regard for her safety or comfort until her father has her smuggled out of the facility to be raised by foster parents. Despite his command that she must cut off all contact with him, she is shown writing letters to him as she grows up. The last scene of this montage shows her releasing her latest letter to fly away in the wind out to sea...
  • July 24, 2013
    SKJAM
    • In the story "Like a Bone in the Throat" by Lawrence Block, a condemned murderer writes a letter to his victim's brother gloating about how much he enjoyed the crime in excruciating detail--then keeps it aside as he mails a much more repentant letter as part of a scheme to reduce his sentence. It works, because the brother wants him released to kill him personally, but that's not quite the end of the story.
  • July 24, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Added Drac Monster and SKJAM's examples.

    Any moderator who sees, please remove the tags.

    What would this need for more hattage?
  • July 25, 2013
    Arivne
    We have "accidentally sent a letter you shouldn't have and desperately try to retrieve it" as Irrevocable Message, if anyone needs to Pot Hole to it.
  • July 25, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    Oh just to clarify, it's only in Harvest Moon: A Wondeful Life/Another Wonder Life they use this. They don't in the other (really long) list of other games in the series. You might want to make note of that to avoid confusion.
  • July 25, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^ Correction noted and made. Thanks!
  • July 25, 2013
    darthwedgius
    And I changed the title. Again.
  • July 25, 2013
    henke37
    This is a recipe for fun and/or drama if the letter ends up sent anyway.
  • July 25, 2013
    Antigone3
    Fanfiction: The GI Joe fanfic A Ninja Commando's Christmas Letter is Snake Eyes being coerced into writing his dead family as therapy.
  • July 25, 2013
    DracMonster
    ^^^This title's the clearest, go with it.
  • July 25, 2013
    darthwedgius
    I decided that messages that could be delivered but where the writer has no intention of sending the message fit a similar narrative purpose as letters-to-your-dead-sister-who-was-eaten-by-the-cow, so added the examples from Alvin and Daibhid C, as well as description text linking to Irrevocable Message.

    Also added the example from Antigone3.
  • July 26, 2013
    Koveras
    • In the end of part 1 of The Diamond Chariot, the captured spy writes a letter to his long-lost-but-recently-found father, then burns it and commits suicide.
  • July 26, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Added Koveras's example.

    Does anyone have an objection to the title "Dear Person Who'll Never Get This"?
  • July 26, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Western Animation
    • Family Guy Parodies this one episode. A family therapist tells the whole family to write angry letters addressed to the other family members. Peter gives each of them the letters he wrote, and it turns out he was only supposed to write to vent anger. He wasn't supposed to give them the letters.
  • July 26, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Added xanderiskander's example, and removed the part about possible overlaps with Dead Man Writing.
  • July 26, 2013
    DracMonster
    Would a character receiving a letter that was never actually written by the sender count as an inversion? Not sure but ill post this for consideration:

    • Inverted in Silent Hill 2: James comes to the town after receiving a letter from his wife, who (he thinks) died 3 years previously. As the game goes on it becomes clear that a lot of Through The Eyes Of Madness is in play, and near the end, the writing disappears from the paper. At the very end, you do get to read her actual final letter, which Mary may or may not have expected to reach James.
  • July 26, 2013
    Larkmarn
    • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer writes an angry letter to Mr. Burns to vent his anger, not intending to send it. Of course, Bart mails the letter, not knowing it wasn't supposed to be sent.
  • July 26, 2013
    TrueShadow1
  • July 26, 2013
    nitrokitty
    Someone will have to elaborate on this for me because I don't remember it entirely:

    • Star Trek Deep Space Nine: In the infamous episode "In The Pale Moonlight", Sisko writes a personal log laying out all the damning evidence of his cover up and conspiracy to bring the Romulans into the war, and then erases it at the end.
  • July 26, 2013
    randomsurfer
    I think "Dear [anybody]" would run afoul of the "no trope titles which sound like dialog" edict.

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it doesn't have to have actually been a line of dialog, just sound like it could be.
  • July 27, 2013
    Psi001
    • Homer actually did intend to send it, just he was incensed by anger at the time. Bart knew this and so sent the letter behind his back as he changed his mind.
      Homer: *horrified* D'oh! Why did you do that?
      Bart: Homer, there were things on that letter that had to be said. And I know you. You're a very emotional guy. Just because you were mad yesterday doesn't mean you'd still be mad this morning.
      Homer: *livid* I'll show you mad in the morning! *strangles Bart*
  • July 27, 2013
    darthwedgius
    I changed the title to one not dialog-y.

    I won't be adding the Deep Space 9 example, which is a shame as Sisko's log serves a similar purpose and meets a similar end as many of the examples, but it was not explicitly addressed to someone, so I wouldn't call it a message, exactly.
  • July 27, 2013
    nitrokitty
    ^ We can change the description up a bit to make it fit. Tropes Are Not Narrow after all.
  • July 27, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^ I think it would miss something if expanded that much. A message is addressed to someone, and written as if you're talking to that person ("Dear little sister, I'm sorry you're dead. Mom misses you. Kevin, not so much.") A personal log is less, well, personal (there has to be a better way to phrase that), and more toward just plain monologuing. Sisko was one step from "Is this a modulated tachyon dagger I see before me?"
  • July 27, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^^^^^^Added True Shadow 1's examples.

  • July 27, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Added that this is often a sub-trope of Surrogate Soliloquy (though it isn't always -- the audience may not ever find out exactly what was in the message).
  • July 28, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Re-worded the description so as to avoid the implication that Surrogate Soliloquy was always a sub-trope of Talking To The Dead. Also tried to add more of what is expected in a trope (the status of the trope in real life and in fiction).
  • July 28, 2013
    Tallens
    • Implied in the first episode of Stargate SG 1 with Jack as a general. He spends the entire episode writing a letter to General Hammond explaining how everything's going wrong, how he's not cut out for command and that he's resigning. At the end, when everything turns out alright, the letter is shown, and at the very bottom, the words, "Never mind."
  • July 28, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^ I got from the episode that General Jack was planning to send the letter, until he got a demonstration of confidence from his men. I might be wrong, but if my interpretation is right then it wouldn't quite be this trope. It would have applied if Jack had never intended to send the letter, though.
  • July 28, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Smallville Chloe writes a letter to Clark telling him how much she loves him, never planning to send it. Several seasons later, after Chloe has hooked up with Jimmy Olsen, Clark happens to find the letter.
  • July 28, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^ Added randomsurfer's example.
  • July 29, 2013
    darthwedgius
    So what is needed for more marvelous millinery?
  • July 30, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Eh?
  • July 30, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^What needs to be changed for more hats? "Hats" didn't alliterate, though.
  • August 1, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Add a pic, maybe?
  • August 1, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^ I've been looking for one without finding an applicable free one yet. Just to avoid this difficulty, the next trope I make is going to be about cute kittens in boxes. :)

    I added another fanfiction example, Twilight's Final:

    https://www.fimfiction.net/story/97122/twilights-final
  • August 5, 2013
    yisfidri
    Does this count, even if she only decides not to deliver the letter when it has been written?

    • In Vertigo, after he follows her to her hotel room, Judy writes Scott a confession letter which serves as an Internal Reveal, telling him of the plot of which he has been an unwitting part, and then decides not to deliver it, tearing it up instead.
  • August 6, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^ I'd say that it doesn't count, but that's a tough one. I think it's about as close as it could come.

    No one told me I'd actually have to think about this!
  • August 6, 2013
    jayoungr
    It's been a long time since I saw Vertigo, but from the description, I'd say the difference between that example and this trope is that Judy was intending to deliver the letter at the time she wrote it.
  • August 7, 2013
    darthwedgius
    ^My thoughts exactly. It serves the same purpose and it's darn close, but I think there's a significant difference in mood.
  • August 7, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Added Richard Feynman example.
  • August 8, 2013
    darthwedgius
    Launched!
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=i6ondmvh2uegr5b55go061kp&trope=DeliveryNotDesired