I've decided to experiment with mystery novels and went for the type I most like: Miss Marple kind of tale.
I set the story in a small town (about 2000 people) and gave my main character family, close friends, regular friends and general acquaintances, mapping the places she goes to (cafés, supermarkets, beauty salon, etc) and whom she interacts with where.
Then, obviously, I had to give her family (husband and one child) their own close friends and regular friends, and I also did the same to the secondary characters.
Once that was done, I started mapping out dislikes, pet hates, enemies and rivals. Soon, I found myself with a realistic 'town' where crime could thrive, given the right conditions.
Of course most characters are nothing more than 'male, John Smith, security at X' or 'female, Jane Doe, middle-aged, works at X, MC has noticed her hands are often scratched, concluded she's got a cat - is it really a cat or is she up to something? keep in mind for later use'.
The first story flowed very well, with the MC learning essential clues through casual (and not so casual) conversations with her friends and acquaintances. There were also a few seeds for possible new crimes. Perfect!
As I now move on to the third crime, I've found that the town has escaped my control. I need to find threads that connect the next victim to the MC so she can discover the criminal, but the now ~300 named characters (developed to greater or lesser extent), whose connections were so clear in my head at the time of their creation, have become strangers.
I need a quick, visual way to identify connections between the characters, because I keep forgetting that D goes to school with C but is also a neighbour to F, so D is the perfect character to see the criminal and pass on some specific clue. This is especially important when the characters are apparent strangers: A does not know B, but her son goes to school with C who is B's miece. That kind of thing. The up-coming stories cannot contradict the connections previously created, quite the opposite, they should use those connections. The more 'old' connections are used, the less need I have to create more characters! I've got more than enough for a dozen crimes; I don't need anymore.
Can anyone suggest some software that can be used to map a large number of connections/relationships? I've seen those maps for mapping social media connections and something similar would be just perfect. I could select character A and not only see how many nodes separate her from B, but also which different paths can A use to get to B (if B goes to the same shops, have friends in common, etc).
I've tried to use YEd to make the connections, but it's not the best thing when a single node has multiple different relationships with a second node (A is friends with B, C, D; A is also C's cousin; A is also a school coleague of C and D; A goes to swimming classes with B and D) and, on top, add places (all the named kids in A's class, plus the ones in B's class, which is a year ahead and includes E, who used to bully A and C).
However, if someone has an 'advised approach' to YEd that I'm failing to discover, feel free to point out the obvious.
I know, I'm going for a really complex thing here, but it worked briliantly for the first two tales... I just have to find a way to quickly recall all the connections in between the characters.