Debut Graduate: David Williams on Completing a Trilogy

David J. Williams writes hard-hitting, military science fiction. The first novel was Mirrored Heavens, which I reviewed at Fantasy Debut. Since then, he’s written The Burning Skies and his final book, The Machinery of Light, comes out today. When I asked him to pen a guest post, I never expected this subject, which has not come up on any of my blogs before. Here is David Williams on completing a trilogy.


A novel has a certain mystique.  A trilogy, perhaps even more so.  Though as Oscar Wilde once said, anyone can write a trilogy, so long as he/she is deaf to life and art.  (People look askance at me when I tell them that – um, it’s supposed to be a joke.)  At any rate, with Bantam’s release of THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT, my Autumn Rain trilogy is officially d-o-n-e…. and it’s been a long strange trip.  Not just since the release of the first novel, THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, two years ago .. . but, really, since I started writing, almost ten years back (in September of 2000, to be precise).  I have no massive trunk of unsold novels/stories; these novels are the only ones I’ve ever written–they constitute my journey thus far as a writer.  And finishing them up is a very weird feeling.  In three ways in particular:

1.  Now I have to say goodbye to my characters. I didn’t think it would be so tough, because in a sense I never said hello to them in the first place.  They are, after all, imaginary.  And yet it’s hard all the same.  They took shape in my head across so many years — went through so many iterations.  I’ve heard the French writer Honore de Balzac inquired on his deathbed as to the health of characters in his novels; I think I know where he was coming from.

2.  I can’t change anything anymore. Anything I hadn’t handled in the first book, I could handle in the second.  Anything I hadn’t wrapped up in the second, I could get to in the third.  But now that the third’s in stores, it’s going to be awfully difficult to make any more revisions.  Not that I want to make any. . . but you know how it goes.  Writers don’t exactly write.  They just revise.  Until they no longer can…

3.  The secret’s out. The books built toward a huge reveal that redefined everything that had gone on across the trilogy.  A trillion dollar enchilada moment, as it were, one that my evil subconscious cackled maniacally over for years.  But now it’s seen the light of day.  And in fact Publishers Weekly blew the whole thing in its review a few weeks back.  So don’t google it.  Just read the books.

Anyway.  I’m sure more weirdness will be settling on me in the next few days and weeks, but that’s probably enough for now.  Thanks a ton to Tia for the space, and all of you for reading!


David will be hanging out, answering comments so don’t be shy. He’s a very approachable guy.

Check out this book trailer for The Machinery of Light, which is available today at stores everywhere.

THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT trailer from Claire Haskell on Vimeo.

14 Thoughts to “Debut Graduate: David Williams on Completing a Trilogy”

  1. Tia Nevitt

    Thanks for a great post, David. A lot of my readers are writers and I can’t speak for them, but I know I’ve never read an article quite like this before. It must have been difficult, combing through the previous books to make sure you’ve closed each and every open plot thread. Plus, you have to make sure you’ve given each character a satisfactory–if not necessarily happy–ending.

    Thanks for your insights!

  2. Thanks Tia! I really appreciate your inviting me to guest post!

  3. Hi, David,

    Thanks for the article.

    Here’s what’s always concerned me about writing trilogies (or any multiple-book stories): once previous books have been published, you can’t go back and change the beginning of your story arc. Did you ever wish that you could change things in book 1 to foreshadow events in book 3, or introduce a character earlier, or anything that would’ve made book 3 even better, but couldn’t because book 1 was already on the shelves? So far, I’ve stuck to standalones because it would be scary (to me) to be contracted to write a series and find out I goofed way back in book 1 and couldn’t do a thing about it if it was already published. I’m curious to know if published series writers have the same fear.


  4. hi Rabia- you’re highlighting the problem I always worried about but I was fortunate never to trip up on it. Partially because I planned all three books out at a high level so I knew generally what all the characters were going to be doing at each stage of the trilogy. That also helped me know where I had to leave things open-ended — for example, there’s a big plot point at the end of book two that I had yet to fill in the details on, so I just left it as a question mark/set-up that book three could then address. It actually worked better that way, because it ended up being more of a hook. But I think the key is planning. I actually BEGAN with mapping out the third book at a very high level — and then worked backwards onto books one and two.

    1. Right. Having a target ending to aim for is key. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, David. Btw, I really liked your book trailer for The Machinery of Light. 🙂

  5. Chicory

    Hi David.

    This is a really opportune article because I was just thinking about series, and the really cool way something that seems tiny in one book can lead to a hidden revelation in the next, or gradually grow into a major story arch. That sort of thing must take so much planning to pull off, but when it works, its got the terrific REVELATION feeling.

    I’d think in a multi-volume work there would be less room to go off your outline. Is that the case? Do you have to stick really rigidly to it, or do you just plan the major events and leave the rest to figure out as you write?

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I’m trying to do the same thing with my epic fantasy. I set the stage in book 1 for something big in book 3, which I have not written yet.

      I like David’s idea–start with your idea in book 3 and work backwards from there. I tried to do that, especially with my latest rewrite when I frame the whole novel in the point of view of someone who becomes my main character’s enemy in book 3. However, in book 1, he is anything but. At least from her point-of-view.

  6. Chicory

    Tia, that sounds awesome. I find when I write, that by the time I reach my outlined ending it generally no longer fits. (The stories are usually better than what I first planned, though.)

  7. I imagine it would be particularly hard to say goodbye to the characters and the world at the end of a closed series. Even reminding myself that I could eventually go back and tell a different, related story wouldn’t help much. {Smile}

    I do wonder how you’ll find a new idea after all this time. {raise hands wardingly) Not that I don’t believe you will; I think finding new ideas is almost inevitable. I just wonder about the how: what will start it off, and where it will go from there. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  8. @ Anne – -I suspect it’s less about coming up with new ideas and more about a kind of strange nostalgia- – i.e., I can’t ever go back to that crazy feeling where it all came together and I surprised myself that I could actually WRITE. You only get to go through that moment once (which is probably just as well) . . .

    1. Yes, I guess that is a unique moment. Other moments will come, but they won’t be that one again. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  9. Interesting topic. I’d never really considered this either. David, was there any sense of relief mixed in? I could imagine myself having mixed feelings when I came to the end of a trilogy.

  10. There was definitely relief/closure/euphoria. . . bittersweet is probably the best word for the overall emotion. As in, now I can get on with the rest of my life…but very surreal all the same.

  11. I guess it would be surreal, at least until the next story turns up. Then you’ll be on more familiar ground, even if it’s in a new world. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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