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 document giving away plot twists prematurely or referring to a particular character by name. Supposing the novel in question is a Cosmic Horror Story and the 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 document to get vital plot information across. So how does the writer get out of this quandary? Simple! Have the pivotal parts obscured.
Convenient ways to avoid a document giving away too much information are:
- The spoiling part of the document has been blacked out with a felt-tip pen or the document is missing pages.
- A sentence is left unfinished because its author got Killed Mid-Sentence.
- The writing has been damaged by water or fire, or has faded by old age.
- The character reading the document gets interrupted, thus preventing them (and the reader) from discovering important information.
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.
- 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.
- The Alarmaverse: From Twilight Sparkle and the Strange Case of Old Res: A page is missing from the middle of Resonius' journal, just at the point where explains everything. Amusingly, Twilight's the one who misplaced that page. She finds it at the very end.
- Triptych Continuum: In Triptych, Chapter 47, the convenient interruption of a "book of what could, in some ways, be termed as 'unicorn history'", which hints at a big revelation:
that mindless ramble about how unicorns had to beware of those with no true power at all...
(There hadn't been any real details in that tract, and Quiet had generally assumed the sudden ending had been produced by the final tail-clamped drag to the asylum.)
- 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.
- 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. There they find another group with the other part of the book looking for theirs. It turns out neither half has it and they never did, with the wording which implied it did a complete accident. The assembled sentence says "...these words are [next page] written on the star pendant he wore...
- 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.
- 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.
- Secret Window: Writer Mort, in order to defend himself against claims from Mr. Shooter that Mort plagiarized a story from him, has to get hold of a magazine from 1993 - the only source his story was published in. Once he gets the magazine, the pages containing his story are torn out. From then on, Mr. Shooter, who was creepy to begin with, start full-out threatening and stalking Mort. At The Reveal at the end of the movie, Mr. Shooter turns out to be not an existing person but a suppressed aspect of Mort himself (as in a dissociative / "multiple personality" disorder or schiphrenic kind of condition), so Mort himself had torn the pages out without remembering. The missing pages seem to be the point that Mr. Shooter begins to take over Mort, and at the end of the movie, Mort('s personality) has gone and now is Mr. Shooter.
- 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.
- In In Search of the Castaways a Message in a Bottle is discovered telling the tale of some castaways, but it is so degraded that only the latitude of the castaways position is legible.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe book The Jedi Path, the entire prophecy of The Chosen One is redacted. Luke Skywalker, the current keeper of the book, suspects that Palpatine is responsible.
- 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. The trope is also treated differently due to redacted documents being the expected norm for all perusers; the missing parts are considered either irrelevant or obtainable by cross-checking a sufficient quantity of documents. The redactions are only meant to protect sources of intelligence (or faked intelligence) from briefees who don't have the motivation or time to do so.
- 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.
- In Lost, the Swan Orientation film noticeably had a snippet removed the first time Desmond and Locke watched it. The missing snippet — which clarified why the computer was not to be used for anything other than entering the Numbers every 108 minutes — was later explained as an edit made by Razdinsky and stored in a hollowed-out Bible in another station across the island, which was later found by Eko. The reasons why the film was edited were never clarified, but Michael's use of the computer to communicate with Walt set off the entire series of tragic events in the second half of Season 2.
- In The Incredible Hulk, the episode "The First", David finds a multi-volume diary detailing the process by which a scientist actually turned someone else into a Hulk-like creature, and cured it... but the volume with the actual process is missing. The scientist's groundskeeper — who was the person who had been turned into the Creature — had hidden it.
- On 12 Monkeys, when Xeroxing the Word of the Witness to bring to the future for study, Jennifer uses her hand to block a section that reveals the Witness to be Cole and Cassie's son to keep Jones from finding out.
- 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.
- In Warhammer 40,000, any piece of lore dealing with the two unknown Primarchs and their Legions is likely to be either vague, heavily redacted, or get cut short before anything solid can be revealed about them. Flavour text on some of the Imperium's more secretive organisations, most notably the Inquisition and Grey Knights, is also often subject to this, especially when it takes the form of in-universe documents.
- 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 the expansion to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within, when you first research Meld, the official research report mentions some previous research from classified documents in the 70's, which were missing information about the source of the information. Since XCOM has access to any and all information in regards to the alien invaders, the revelation that information has been and is being kept from them should raise a few eyebrows and foreshadows the existence of EXULT.
- 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.
- Throughout the levels of The Talos Principle, there are various texts, most of which are random bits of history or philosophy, but some are communiques relevant to the backstory. However, in many cases extremely important bits of information are "bugged", appearing as numbers or nonsense characters. (Although, if the player is diligent enough, they can translate some of these back to text using ASCII protocols, creating a very roundabout Bilingual Bonus)
- One letter from the original Resident Evil is usually missing its top half by the time you find it. If you're quick enough in reaching the room its located in, you can read the full letter before it's ripped up and see the mention of a "guy in sunglasses," a.k.a. Albert Wesker, who's obviously the person that tears off that part of the letter.
- When reading out Sakura's real suicide note, which mentions some details critical to The Reveal, Monokuma simply doesn't read out that part and the document in question is never seen again.
- When viewing the video showing the students agreeing to stay at Hope's Peak forever, Monokuma interrupts it at a seemingly arbitrary point. Specifically, the section showing Junko Enoshima, which would have shown a different person to the Junko Enoshima that you knew.
- In Dangan Ronpa 2, the document containing all the student's profiles has some pages removed. These pages would have shown the students becoming Ultimate Despairs.
- Ace Attorney:
- The Burned Letter in Trials and Tribulations conveniently has crucial parts burned by an incinerator. For example, the name of the person who had to be channeled by Pearl Fey in the night of the murder, Dahlia Hawthorne. You can still figure this out from the other clues of the case.
- In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Magnifi's diary ends with a page that implies he was killed shortly after writing it. However, you can notice the following page was ripped out. You were also given a ripped page before the trial where this comes up, and you claim that it comes from the diary. As it turns out, the missing page was Magnifi's will, and the page you had was a complete fake to make you look like a forger (and indeed, Phoenix Wright was disbarred for presenting false evidence). On the real page, Magnifi gave the rights to his magic tricks to Zak Gramarye, his disciple.
- Used in Marble Hornets Entry #60.5 with Tim's medical documents. While Jay manages to get a decent 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.
- SCP-2004 ("Personal Data Assistants of the Gods"). SCP-2004 is a set of anomalous PDAs that display a message in an alien language. After reading the message, human beings can translate some of the message, but then lose their minds. What has been translated indicates that the human race is somehow dangerous to the other intelligent beings in the universe and we've been confined to the Earth until we grow up enough to no longer be a threat.
- Adventure Time: In "The Diary", Jake's son T.V. finds a discarded journal at the bottom of a dried-up moat, and finds the last few pages were torn out before T.V. could find out what happened to the owner B.P. on her date with her crush Justin. T.V. and Jake set out to solve the mystery, and eventually discover B.P. was "Betsy Poundcake", AKA minor character Nurse Poundcake.
- 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 habits, 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.
- In the first episode of Gravity Falls, Journal 3's "Property of" label is ripped in half- the half where the name is kept, thus making its Author's identity a mystery.
- 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.
- Additionally, a document can itself be declassified, but still contain information that has not been declassified. This is generally where the "redacted" black-outs come from. The most closely guarded information, "sources and methods"note , is almost always left out for decades: the revelation that the British cracked the Nazi Germany Enigma code cipher, for example, wasn't unclassified until 50 years after World War 2 ended.
- 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.
- During recovery operations after the Flight TE901 crash into Mt Erebus in 1979, pages from a ring binder belonging to the pilot were removed, prompting charges of a cover-up.
- Lewis Carroll had a big falling out with Alice's family (she was a real girl) some years after he wrote the Alice books. He kept diaries which exist to this day, but the pages relating to the fall out have been cut out. It is presumed that they were removed after his death by members of his family because the events reflected poorly on him.