Note how Rand here connects Romanticism with her theory of human nature. For Rand, volition as applied to consciousness means (among other things) "the formation of his [a man's] own character." Man, Rand contended, is a being of "self-made soul"; it is the volitional nature of consciousness that makes him so. Romanticism, therefore, being a volition-orientated school of art, must (by implication at least) portray men as having self-made souls.
The faculty of volition operates in regard to the two fundamental aspects of man’s life: consciousness and existence, i.e., his psychological action and his existential action, i.e., the formation of his own character and the course of action he pursues in the physical world. Therefore, in a literary work, both the characterizations and the events are to be created by the author, according to his view of the role of values in human psychology and existence (and according to the code of values he holds to be right). His characters are abstract projections, not reproductions of concretes; they are invented conceptually, not copied reportorially from the particular individuals he might have observed. The specific characters of particular individuals are merely the evidence of their particular value-choices and have no wider metaphysical significance (except as material for the study of the general principles of human psychology); they do not exhaust man’s characterological potential.
Rand's notion of volition as applicable to existence is more in line with her view of the "efficacy of reason" and her benevolent universe premise. All these conceptions are deeply problematic and, at best, only half-truths.
Rand's conviction that individuals form their own character is empirically false. Rand presents no compelling evidence in its favor; and there exists plenty of scientific evidence against it. Hence Randian Romanticism is contary to the facts of reality. Curiously enough, Rand herself nearly acknowledges as much when she criticizes "Naturalist" authors for merely providing "journalistic" characters based on the observation of "particular individuals" (i.e., real people). She even goes so far as to admit that the Naturalist authors may present insights concerning human psychology. This seems almost like an unwitting acknowledgement that, on the issue of human nature, so-called "Naturalist" authors like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Balzac, etc. were factually correct, despite their clear rejection of Rand's own peculiar view that "man is a being of self-made soul."
Now if we are to rely upon science and experience to guide us in these matters, it must be admitted that "free will," to the extent that exists at all, is hemmed in all sides by the biological limitations of the human brain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is made up of competing systems. Unity is achieved (if at all), presumably, by some kind of vague and amorphous controlling agent, which we identify with ourselves; but it is not clear that this "agent," whatever it may be, enjoys complete control or even has a will of its own. In any case, the old dichtomy of free will versus determinism may have outlived its usefulness. As Nietszche suggested over a hundred years ago, the question is not so much between free will and unfree will, as between strong wills and weak wills.
Once the evidence of science is weighed in the balance, it would seem that free will, at best, applies only to decisions based on reflection. Even here, the conception is problematic. But applying it further is not justified on empirical grounds. For this reason, Rand's assumption that volition is applicable to "consciousness and existence" is, at best, misleading, and at worse, palpably absurd. How can a volition which struggles to control its own impulses be applicable to both consciousness and existence? The most the individual can hope to control is his own decisions (and even that hope may prove illusory). Much that is applicable to both consciousness and existence is well beyond any sort of volitional choice. We don't choose our characters or the emotions and impulses that afflict us on all sides; and our choices, in terms of "existence," are very limited, hemmed in on the one side by physical necessity and on the other by the choices and actions of other individuals.
Ultimately, Rand's claim that volition is applicable to both consciousness and existence is merely an eccentric way of formulating her theory of human nature and the benevolent universe premise. However, it is deeply questionable whether the first of these assumptions is applicable to literature, and the second of any great importance. Is there any literature that portrays human beings as men of self-made souls? Does even Rand's own novels portray them as such? Curiously, Rand does not profer us a glimpse into the formative stages of Roark or Galt, where we can see them quite literally forming their own souls! Yet, if the deeper implications of Rand's own aesthetic theories are to be credited, the only difference between John Galt and James Taggart are a handful of fundamental choices. Galt could easily, had he volitionally chosen different values, become James Taggart, while Taggart could easily have become John Galt. (One wonders, if their choices had been different, would their physical attributes also change?). Nor is it clear how the category of volition as applied to existence is supposed to reveal anything insightful or even true about fundamental views of a novel's author. Doesn't Kira's death, at the end of We the Living, imply that Rand's protagonist exercises no volition over her existence and that therefore Rand is a determinist (at least in regards to volition being applicable to existence)? Meanwhile, in Jane Austen's novels, the protagonists never fail to achieve their ambition of ensnaring the victim of their romantic fancies. Does this mean that Jane Austen believed in the applicability of volition to existence? Or did she merely wish to write novels with a happy ending (happy, that is, from the feminine point of view)?