"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."Scrapbook Stories, 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. If the in-universe explanation for this trope is that it came about by accident, it's very much a Contrived Coincidence. 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.
— The Onion: "CIA Realizes It's Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years"
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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.
- In When Marnie Was There, Marnie's diary has the pages about her silo adventure ripped out so that it wouldn't tell Anna (and the audience) what's gonna happen next. Sayaka finds the missing pages afterwards.
Films — Animated
- In the movie Epic, the bottom of the scroll about the pod has been pretty much shredded. Mandrake took it because he didn't want anyone to know what happens when the pod blooms in darkness.
Nim: I'll be honest, termites have been a problem.
- In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the Shepherd's Journal has a missing page, which means that nobody knows exactly what the Atlanteans' power-source is. Rourke had the missing page in his boot the whole time.
Films — Live-Action
- In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Miss Price sees Mr. Brown about a spell book. She gets it and reads about the Substitutiary Locomotion spell, but the part where it talks about the incantation used to activate the spell is on a page that got torn out of the book. The group had to go to Portobello Road to look for it.
- In Event Horizon, the ship receives part of a signal from the titular vessel containing a message in Latin. As the signal is partly corrupted, they initially take the message to be "Liberate me" - "save me". Upon acquiring the full signal and inspecting it closer, they find that the message is actually "Liberate tutemet ex infernis" - "Save yourselves from Hell.''
- There's a very amusing moment in RED. When Cooper finally gets access to Frank Moses's file, he finds pages and pages of it blacked out, with only comments like '[FRANK MOSES] WAS NEVER THERE.' He was told Moses was a retired CIA analyst, so it's kind of a nasty surprise.
- The Conspiracy: Used in the title and used phonetically: when characters name important figures their names are bleeped and the characters' mouths are blurred, and all faces at the Tarsus Club are blurred.
- Frankenstein: The True Story: Just before Clerval and Frankenstein are prepared to animate their creation, Clerval discovers that an arm they had reanimated earlier is becoming horribly deformed. He has a heart attack and leaves a partially-completed note: "The process is re—". He intended to write "reversing", Frankenstein interpreted the note to mean "ready."
- In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku and Senator Palpatine removed the Kamino system from the star charts in the Jedi library. Fortunately for Obi Wan, they forgot to adjust the rest of the map to compensate for gravity's pull.
- 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 Nineteen Eighty Four, 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.
- In The Last Continent, the Librarian has caught a magical disease, and in order to cure him, the other wizards need to know his true name. Thing is, no one in Unseen University remembers what the Librarian was like before becoming an orangutan, and the Librarian himself isn't telling, as he's afraid someone will turn him back. Ridcully suggests looking the name up in the yearbook for the year the Librarian graduated, but according to the Dean, all copies suffered the same mishap. That mishap, as the Archchancellor guesses, is that a certain page being torn out, leaving only a bananary aroma in its wake.
Live Action TV
- Our Miss Brooks:
- "Madison Mascot": Mr. Conklin's letter telling Miss Brooks to get him an elephant bookend is torn. Miss Brooks is forced into the conclusion that Mr. Conklin wants her to get him an elephant. It Makes Sense in Context.
- In "The Telegram", the eponymous telegram gets partially burnt. Half the message from Mrs. Davis' Uncle Corky gets destroyed. Resultantly, everybody believes that Mrs. Davis' uncle only has a week left to live. Again, It Makes Sense in Context.
- 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 S.H.I.E.L.D. Skye joins S.H.I.E.L.D. in an effort to get access to the unredacted document.
- The text of 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.
- In Paranoia it's not uncommon at all the Troubleshooters will receive documents with parts [CENSORED BECAUSE OF SECURITY REASONS], [THIS INFORMATION IS NOT AVAILABLE AT YOUR CLEARANCE]], and the like.
- 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.
- Appears in the thematically appropriate Call of Duty: Black Ops, which follows disavowed events during the Cold War. Every mission opens with a summary, before black ink smears out everything except the viewpoint character, the location, and time. Its sequels, though set in the distant future, still uses this trope by deleting text.
- Used in Marble Hornets Entry #60.5 with Tim's medical documents. While Jay manages to get decent a bit of information from them, the documents are heavily redacted with black marker, with one page being almost entirely blacked out. While Jay theorizes that whoever left the documents did this to intimidate him, one has to wonder how blacking out Tim's last name apart from its initial (W) serves any purpose other than keeping up with the Only One Name motif for the characters.
- According to a report by The Onion, the CIA had not intentionally meant to obscure any crucial information. They simply highlighted all the important parts of critical documents using a black highlighter.
- Used a few times in Look to the West, especially in Part #100, which at the end is revealed to be the result of the data being corrupted by the radio having been shot mid-transmission.
Nim: I'll be honest, termites have been a problem.
- SCP Foundation
- The intentional removal of information is used extensively in the Foundation's documents, including blacking out words and replacement by the phrases [DATA EXPUNGED] and [REDACTED]. Very rarely, certain documents will have non-standard replacements like [EXPLETIVE DELETED], [ADDITIONAL CLEARANCE REQUIRED] and [PROCESS REDACTED].
- SCP-699 ("Mystery Box"). A rare example of the accidental version of this trope. A report was attached to SCP-699 when it arrived at the Foundation. Parts of the report were too damaged to be read and were replaced with [report damaged].
- SCP-719 ("Light-Bringer"). Another accidental version. A note found during the recovery of the item was partially burned. The remaining sections indicate that SCP-719 is a doorway for an extradimensional being to enter our reality.
- SCP-1213 ("Orphaned Catapult"). SCP-1213 is an animated medieval-style catapult that seeks out and grabs young mammals and people with dwarfism, puts them in its basket and throws them against the nearest wall. A document left by its creator had many areas illegible (missing or burnt), but what remained indicated that he used a machine that created doorways between dimensions to acquire it.
- 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 Tong's library (which served as the last straw for the spirit, and caused him to become hostile to humans).
- In the Doug episode "Doug and the Weird Kids", Doug is paired off with Al and Moo Sleech for a school report where they have to get to know each other. While the Sleech twins investigate Doug's life and habbits, they provide him a document containing information about themselves. However, when it comes to their father, they only provide a heavily redacted profile where the only words visible are "and", "but The", "An", and "McDonagh." Doug decides to investigate who their father actually is, and it turns out the twins are ashamed of him because he's a baker and not a scientist like them.
- Any formerly classified document released by the FBI, CIA, NSA, and similar "alphabet soup agencies" under the Freedom of Information Act can be expected to have any useful information redacted.
- The diary of John Wilkes Booth has over a dozen pages missing. It is unknown whether he tore out the pages himself, or if they were removed afterwards. This has led to theories that someone else was behind the Lincoln assassination, most notably Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was given the diary after it was recovered from Booth's body. To this day, the missing pages and their contents remain unknown.