Last week, I finally completed a full draft of the third novella in the Earths in Space series.

I had been struggling with it since January, and I took several lengthy breaks to work on other projects, primarily the RIP series (Volume 1: Choices After Death coming soon!). Each time I returned to the story, it never quite felt right. It had some good moments, yes — enough to motivate me to keep going with it.

The story needed to happen. I knew that, especially since I had already written drafts of the fourth and fifth novellas and most of the sixth. There were holes in character development that needed filling. The crew needed one more story before the events in Episode Four.

But I kept making mistakes in execution. The plot involves a zombie-like threat in a space ark that gets snagged in Pluto’s orbit. I didn’t want to do the usual zombies, though. The Walking Dead does great zombies, and I don’t have anything to add to that type of living dead, flesh-eating monster. I wanted a new type of living dead monster — one that eats energy.

Initially, I had them devouring all types of energy, and that was simply far too unwieldy. It didn’t work. They needed to crave only a specific type of energy, one that can be found in people.

Then there was another problem. All the antagonists were brain-dead. Collectively, they were like a force of nature, but the good guys needed a still-human antagonist to confront. The series explores people on other Earths, after all, not the climates. Even the second novella, “The End of an Earth,” which takes us to a world where mankind has long since died out, shows us possible effects of the absence of humanity.

Basically, this new story needed more than just energy suckers floating over Pluto, and I soon found a villain — a villain who thinks he’s absolutely justified, of course.

The next issue was to tie the events of the third novella back to the events of the second while still standing on their own. Once I did that, it helped me set the theme for the entire four-novella second volume — evolution. And by “evolution,” I also mean personal growth.

I’m about to give some light SPOILERS for “The End of an Earth,” which is the second story in Volume 1: Where Are the Little Green Men?

Here we go.

The crew meets non-human animal life that has evolved in the strict Darwinian sense, adapting to survive a harsher environment. Their intelligence hasn’t evolved — they’re still animals, perhaps more brutal than ever — but they’ve acquired new physical skills over the past several billion years to help them endure this harsh world. (You will never see talking animals in Earths in Space. This isn’t Animal Farm.)

So, Amena has seen strong evidence suggesting that life does indeed evolve, if given enough time. This leads her to wonder…What would evolved humans be like? In what ways would they evolve? Does an Earth exist out there where mankind had the opportunity to physically or mentally evolve? They never got the chance in the Earth featured in “The End of an Earth,” but maybe there’s another one.

However, there’s now a spaceship floating over Pluto, full of cryogenically preserved people. What are they fleeing?

This third novella, tentatively titled “The Pluto Factor,” needs lots more work. Plot points need smoothing out. Clunky passages need fixing. And I’m sure I’ll spot some new issues after I take a little break from it.

But I know it will continue improving, and eventually, it will get where it needs to be.

I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.

Now to re-read the fourth novella and see what needs work there…