Dear Agony Editor,
I have a beta reader friend who is also a writer. I shared my work with her, and then, months later, when she shared her work with me, I noticed she’d cribbed several of my plot points and ideas. Should I call her on it, or just not share anything with her in the future?
You absolutely need to call her on it, especially since, as you say, she’s not only a beta reader but also your friend. Writers need to be able to trust the people with whom they share their early work.
Feedback from early readers is an essential part of the writing process. Without sharing that work with others, how does a writer know what’s working – and what isn’t? The risk in this, of course, is precisely the situation you find yourself in now. When you hand your ideas over to another writer, there’s always a chance those ideas might find their way onto someone else’s pages.
Given that this person is your friend and that it’s been months since she read your work, I have a hunch she’s not even aware of her actions. Otherwise, I doubt she would have shared her work with you, knowing that you were bound to see the similarities. It can be easy for writers to forget where ideas come from – though that’s never an excuse to steal from someone else’s work.
I realize this isn’t likely to be an easy conversation, but it’s important to stand up for your ideas and your work. And it’s better to have this conversation now rather than later, should her work – with your ideas – ever get published.
Give your friend the benefit of the doubt and diplomatically point out the similarities you’ve observed. It might be helpful to have your work on hand to reference. I’d also have the conversation in person, if possible. There’s too much room for misinterpretation in emails and texts.
Listen very carefully to what your friend has to say in response. That response will help you determine if this person – and her friendship – is worthy of your trust.