A form of letter or other writing where the least amount of personalization has been made via circling multiple choices or fill-in-the-blanks. The blanks are often names or dates as these are elements that are impossible to make uniform. For example a letter might start "Dear [ ], we were happy to receive your opinions on [ ]" so that the blanks can be filled in and customized with the correct name and information later.
In Real Life
this trope is simply a practical way to save effort, but in fiction it is often played for laughs as a fill-in-the-blanks letter contains faux-sincere language or is hilariously inapplicable to the given situation. This is actually the concept behind the children's game, Mad Libs
where a short story is told with blanks left so that a group can yell out random words fill it in creating a humorous nonsense story.
A common gag with such letters is for the whole thing to be read in full, including Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud
; "Dear square bracket name of recipient square bracket we are pleased slash sorry to inform you..."
When the trope is verbalized it becomes Mad Libs Dialogue
Not to be confused with Multiple-Choice Past
which is something entirely different.
- The Big Book of Top Gear includes a parody form letter for Daily Mail readers to use every time they want to complain about the show, with checkboxes for things like "I was [disgusted/enraged/sickened/aroused] to see [Jeremy/James/That girl]..." and so on.
- In Discworld, Corporal Carrot doesn't seem to grasp the concept of form letters as he leads the new Night Watch recruits in taking the oath:
"I comma square bracket recruit's name square bracket comma do solemnly swear by square bracket recruit's deity of choice square bracket to uphold the Laws and Ordinances of the city of Ankh-Morpork, serve the public trust comma and defend the subjects of His stroke Her bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket Majesty bracket name of reigning monarch bracket..." and so on.
- In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg uses a form with blanks to write his thank you notes. It's not very personal.
"Dear [Aunt Loretta], Thank you so much for the awesome [Pants]! How did you now I wanted that for Christmas? I love the way the [Pants] looks on my [Legs]! All my friends will be so jealous that I have my very own [Pants]."
- In Catch-22 to show how little the commanding officers cared about their men, Colonel Cathcart and Lieutenant Colonel Korn use a form letter to tell the relatives of soldiers that their [Husband / Father / Brother / Son] has been [Wounded / Killed / Captured].
- In How I Met Your Mother, Barney has a form letter he leaves to girls who he sleeps with and then walks out on. At one point, he cannot remember the girls name and simply fills in "Resident".
Letter: Dear [Resident], The time we spent together, however long it was, meant the world to me. I would love to see you again but unfortunately I cannot. You see, I am a ghost. I can only materialize once every decade, on the anniversary of my death. I chose to spend my one day among the living with you, sweet [resident]. Perhaps we will meet again, in another decade—provided you keep your figure. Until then, all my love from the beyond, Barney.
Resident: Barney... Who the hell is Barney?
- Also, in one episode Marshall rereads an old Mad Libs book where every word he's filled in is some form of "fart". He still finds it pretty funny.
- There are lots of these in Private Eye, in the form of apologies from papers. For example, in a year when news about youth anorexia and obesity had been circulating, the apology would end with the note, "For God's sake, [stop/keep] eating."
- Shadowrun sometimes used this with electronic form letters. The computer sending the letter decides which phrase to use depending on the recipient's status.