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.
- In Control, this is how the Board, the Enigmatic Empowering Entity, speaks, occasionally giving you several options for its lines. Usually, the options are functionally identical, which makes the ones that don't seem to mean the same... ever so slightly unsettling.
Only the Director can wield the Gun/Sword/Intentionally left blank
Now you/we control the gun/you
- Used by Saxton Hale of Team Fortress 2 fame. Most famously◊ he uses the same form letter for prospective business partners and lawsuit targets, just with the friendly or hostile options ticked respectively.
- In Stellaris, the Contingency that may spawn as an endgame Crisis faction communicates like this, as it announces its intention to redact/offline/dismantle the sapient races of the galaxy. It's another indication that it's not functioning quite right.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, Belisarius Cawl speaks like this. In canon, it's mentioned that Cawl is a Mind Hive of AI copies of his brain working together, but in TTS they're a bit discordant, leaving Cawl a Mood-Swinger who abruptly switches between feminine/calm/AGGRESSIVE words mid-sentence, such as when given a kill order by his boss.
Cawl: Any particular reason/rationale?
The Fabricator-General: None of your concerrrnnn.
Cawl: That's fair/fine/FUCK YOU.
- Steve Martin's stock fan letter reply.
- Saxton Hale from Team Fortress 2 responds to events in the real world with letters of this form, with one for fans ordering items and one for inventors and invention thieves.
I look forward to [X] WORKING WITH YOU IN THE FUTURE [ ] PUMMELING YOU TO DEATH WITH MY DAMN BARE HANDS.
- Field Postcards sent by soldiers to their loved ones during World War I contained nothing but a series of basic statements that were scratched out to leave a coherent message. To censor sensitive information, anything that was added to the card other than the multiple-choice answers was destroyed.
- Back in The '70s when the generic "brand" first became popular, there was a parody "Generic Greeting Card". It looked like the standard generic style on the outside, reading GREETING CARD, and on the inside there was a list of checkoffs with boxes [Happy Birthday / Happy Anniversary / Congratulations / Hello / etc.]
- Anything done with a mail merge system, like stock emails, letters, etc.
- A common military saying: "Don't worry about the bullet with your name on it. Instead worry about shrapnel addressed 'occupant'".