My first thought upon seeing this ad was that I’ll check it out. I greatly enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s original series, despite the raw scenes—which in my opinion forwarded both the plot and the character development. When reading the trilogy, I often pondered how he could violate all the accepted no-nos of writing wisdom and still be a raging success. He started slow. He introduced seemingly unrelated people and events. Information known to the reader was frequently repeated almost verbatim as one character informed another of events, history, etc. Thus, we have a sterling example of success in spite of rule-breaking. Clearly, Larsson did something right!
My second thought was to suggest that my readers write something—scene, short story, whatever—based on an admired work. But before doing so, I wanted to determine whether I was suggesting something illegal—or at least unethical. But how could that be? What about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or any fan fiction published by the ton?
Here’s what I found. 1) Anyone can use a name for a character or a book. They can’t be copyrighted. However, as a general rule, you should ask yourself why you would want to name your character Scarlett O’Hara or Captain Blye. Why would you want to title your book Gone With the Wind when any online search would have you at the bottom of hundreds of links to the original?
2) No one can copyright a stock character. The moon-eyed teenager, the sadistic rapist, the strong but silent hero, beautiful and buxom arm candy, etc.
3) No one can copyright an idea. Anyone can safely write a book about a young boy who has magical powers that he uses to combat evil. Anyone can write a dapper super-sleuth enamored with a brainy, independent, vulnerable woman.
So when do we get into problems? When the characters are easily identifiable as Harry Potter, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Harriet Vane—or any sufficiently distinctive character created by a copyrighted author.
When the original author is no longer producing, sometimes others take up the mantle. Jill Patton for Dorothy L. Sayers, Felix Francis for his father, and (presumably) David Lagercrantz for Steig Larsson. These authors have the permission of the copyright holders (presumably the estate) to go forth and use the fully defined and described characters, acting in characteristic ways in new situation.
So consider whether you want to take another’s creation and make it your own!