Well, this is very informative.
"Why did it go on for this long, and this far?" said [CIA Director Porter Goss] in a press conference called shortly after the report's release. "I'm as frustrated as anyone. You can't read a single thing that's been highlighted. Had I been there to advise [former CIA director] Allen Dulles, I would have suggested the traditional yellow color—or pink."
: "CIA Realizes It's Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years"
, Epistolary Novels
and other works of the kind which make heavy use of Fictional Documents
will almost inevitably run into the problem of how to avoid the Fictional Document
giving away too much information. Supposing the novel in question is a Cosmic Horror Story
and the Fictional Document
refers to Things Man Was Not Meant To Know
, or Brown Notes
which supposedly cause the reader to Go Mad from the Revelation
. Obviously, few writers are skilled enough to actually compose such a Brown Note
, so including the Brown Note
in the text of the Fictional Document
itself is out of the question. But the writer still needs to use the Fictional Document
to get vital plot information across. How does the writer get out of this quandary?
Simple! Have the author of the fictional document go over the offending part of the document with a felt-tip pen.
This trope refers to cases in which Fictional Documents
are damaged in a way which is particularly convenient for the author, whether by escaping the scenario described above, avoiding giving away plot twists prematurely or simply avoiding referring to a particular character by name
It can also be used when the document is not actually damaged, but the character reading it gets interrupted in the course of doing so, thus preventing the character (and the reader) from discovering important information.
This is primarily a literary trope, but can pop up in any work which features Fictional Documents
In cases like the first example, it can be a blazingly unsubtle example of Take Our Word for It
. Commonly found (of course) in Scrapbook Stories
and other works which make use of Fictional Documents
. Can be justified via the Literary Agent Hypothesis
. Sister Trope
to His Name Is...
. Plot-Based Voice Cancellation
achieves the same effect, but with sound, while Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation
does it with photographs. Censor Box
is probably the closest equivalent in visual media. Compare to That Was the Last Entry
and Apocalyptic Log
. Subtrope of Lost In Transmission
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Anime and Manga
- Played for laughs like everything else in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu: after detonating his shoe locker due to signs of tampering, Sousuke recovers and reconstructs the burned shreds of a love letter. From the few bits of surviving text, he completely misinterprets it as a death threat.
- Played for dark humor in Neon Genesis Evangelion, with the note from Gendo. It probably started out as a long, somewhat flowery letter, but by the time it reached Shinji's hands, 95% of it had been blacked out, leaving only "COME—GENDO" remaining.
- Happens throughout House of Leaves, such as by one of the characters spilling ink on a document or something like that. Possibly in an effort to justify the use of this trope, parts of the fictional documents which aren't vital to the plot also get damaged, relting in tet that los like thi. Additionally, sometimes the characters do this on purpose precisely because they fear the reader being driven mad by what they might read.
- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, one of the side stories to A Series of Unfortunate Events, makes heavy use of this.
- Throughout the series, the notes at the end of each book giving hints about the next book are in increasingly worse condition, until the last two don't reveal anything useful at all.
- The Janson Directive, a Robert Ludlum novel, makes use of this to avoid giving away the name of the villain in official letters concerning him.
- One of the most famous examples occurs in 1984, when Winston is reading a book which explains the entire political philosophy of Ingsoc and is just about to learn the motivations behind the Party's barbaric totalitarian system - upon which he falls fast asleep, much to the reader's frustration.
- Near the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry finds a letter from one of his parents which mentions Dumbledore, and hints at a surprising revelation about his past. However, the second page of the letter cannot be found by Harry. He finds out much later that the revelation would have been of some use to him at the time, and that it was removed for reasons completely unrelated to any desire to keep it from him.
- There's a Peter Straub thriller called The Throat where the protagonist, who is looking for a murderer, finds a scrap of paper with a name and a town written on it, only the town name is slightly damaged and looks like "Alle_town". The protagonist misreads it as Allentown, which leads him to entirely the wrong man; the real murderer was in Allertown.
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, by Kurt Vonnegut, has a distant cousin of Mr. Rosewater reading his family history only to discover that the last pages were eaten by maggots.
- Sets off the plot in Pick Your Victim: a newspaper article identifies a murderer, but the parts naming the victim are left out.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of The Twilight Zone an alien brings a message to the people of Earth. It gets killed and the message burned. Then someone reads the message, which is something like, "As a symbol of our friendship we offer the following, a cure for all forms of cancer." The rest is burned away.
- The government documents that Michael does manage to get his hands on are these. It fuels the Myth Arc to get rid of the Burn Notice.
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye's search for her birth parents turned up a heavily redacted document that indicates that the person who turned her over to the child welfare system when she was an infant was an agent of SHIELD. Skye joins SHIELD in an effort to get access to the unredacted document.
- The text of the RPG based on The Dresden Files contains blacked-out passages, ostensibly inked out by Harry Dresden himself when Billy Borden compiled his notes for the game for Harry's perusal. Gamers who examine the pdf version of the game can peek under the redactions, some of which reference events in the novel series which had not yet been revealed when the RPG first saw print; another contains an actual message from series author Jim Butcher, admitting that he can't tell anyone what Billy originally "wrote" yet.
- A common element in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified using blacking out information heavily in the viral marketing of the game and the boxart itself. In game however very little done in such a way as you're in the inner circle.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zhao burned away references to The Day Of Black Sun, and indeed, any references to the Fire Nation at all in Wan Shi Ton's library (which served as the last straw for the spirit, and caused him to become hostile to humans).